A year ago today, the Gymbacks rolled over the Crimson Tide in one of the most satisfying meets I have ever had the privilege to watch. ON AND POPPING. This afternoon looked markedly different as the ‘Backs took on fourth-ranked Oklahoma on Sunday afternoon, their second season meet in as many days inside Barnhill Arena.
Sooner gymnastics are a national powerhouse, and despite their upset loss to LSU, I knew today would be a challenge for the ‘Backs in every way. Alas, the toughest losses are the ones where a tweak here or more focus there could have spelled the difference. Oklahoma left the Hill victorious with a 197.050 over Arkansas’ 195.900. How did the Family Joad finally get their due? Let’s find out. To the Way Back (a couple hours ago) Machine!!
Just kidding. The Joad’s story looks like this.
These teams began fairly evenly as Arkansas started on vault ranked just above number three-OU on this event. Sophomore Leah MacMoyle ("She’s just expressing herself") burst off the table to a 9.825, while junior Amanda Wellick led her team with a strong, powerful execution that garnered a 9.9. Sophomore Paige Zaziski and freshman Braie Speed brought home a pair of 9.8s, but the most notable vault belonged to frosh Sydney McGlone who seemed to have listened to a lot of Taylor Swift on Saturday to get a much stronger 9.875 for her team. If the Gymbacks had performed this well on the vault Friday night, they'd have won the meet vs Georgia. At bars, the Sooners completed clean routines that edged them just over the ‘Backs’ 49.200 to a 49.275 at the end of the first rotation.
Bugaboos abounded on uneven bars, however. Senior Keara Glover experienced a senior moment wherein she did not acknowledge the judges before she began that event. That blunder costs a tenth of a point. I contend, however, that the rest of her performance deserved a much better score than the mere 9.575 thrown out as the team’s low score. Senior Stephani Canizaro also struggled during her exercise, garnering an uncharacteristically low 9.65. Zaziski swung herself to a meet championship with a 9.9 on the bars, but that score could not raise the team average high enough as the Sooners’ Charity Jones and Ali Jackson vaulted to 9.9 and 9.95.
At midpoint, the ‘Backs trailed Oklahoma with 98.150 to 98.675. Not an insurmountable lead, but I had started inwardly thrashing like Tina Belcher from my perch at the media table.
Arkansas rotated to the balance beam. Coach Mark Cook heralded assistant head coach Samantha Snider with this year’s focus and competence in the exercise that I once called "the Devil’s Playground." Like their meet against the Georgia, the ‘Backs’ lineup largely executed well on this event, but bobbles from Wellick and McGlone helped the team to 147.175.
Meanwhile, on the floor, Oklahoma announced to the world that they have invested in a truly impressive choreographer to compliment their agility and command of tumbling passes. A litany of errors for the ‘Backs on floor landed Arkansas firmly on the second-place box as the Sooners offered up complicated, daring beam routines that secured their win.
Argh. An aggravating finish that might have gone the other way with more focus from a team dealing with some significant jitters even out of seasoned athletes. The Absence of Elswick (sounds like the lost Foer novel, right?) is all the more glaring amid mishaps and Coach Cook candidly noted the afternoon’s problems that must be corrected if the Gymbacks are going to be contenders. 195.900 especially smarts after Arkansas’ excellent opening score of 196.700 against Georgia on Friday.
Nevertheless, the experience, talent and potential of this squad are undeniable. Elswick is tentatively due back from her ankle injury before February (she’s too young to have Louis CK’s bad ankle), and the season is early yet. Next week, the ‘Backs go to Tuscaloosa to face the sixth-ranked Gumps on their own shrimp boat. I’ll be watching. You should, too. #GOBACKSGO