If you are unfamiliar with the brilliance that was David Foster Wallace, remedy that immediately. Similarly, if you are a Razorback fan and a Northwest Arkansas mainstay who is NOT already at Barnhill Arena on Friday nights in the winter, fix that, too? What are you even doing with your life if you are not among the 4,619 Razorback fans watching the best show in town? For the second consecutive week, the eighth-ranked Arkansas Gymbacks set the skillet on slow simmer that built to intense sizzle.
The ‘Backs vanquished the ninth-ranked Auburn Tigers back to the Plains on a hefty margin of 196.600 to 195.975 after allowing their rivals (seriously, we hate you on every battlefield, Aubie) to think they might tumble out of Fayetteville on an upset. Sorry, Auburn. It was also Princess Night at Barnhill, and the ‘Backs played Elsa.
From my seat up in nosebleed because with the rest of the local media (thanks for carrying the meet, SEC Network!), I watched the first rotation in which the ‘Backs slowly warmed up for the evening. Arkansas entered the arena tied nationally at sixth place (with Alabama) on vault while Auburn only ranked tenth in this event.
Nevertheless, big balance checks on landings cost the ‘Backs points. Junior and All-Around winner, Amanda Wellick landed her first 9.9 of the night off the table; sophomore Paige Zaziski’s crisp exercise offered her team a 9.825 while junior Samantha Nelson and frosh Syndey McGlone earned a pair of 9.8s. Still, Aubie is pretty good on bars (seventh, nationally), and at the end of the first rotation, the ‘Backs lingered behind at 49.075 while tiger tails swished with a 49.250.
Whilst Auburn danced a jaunty jig, Arkansas watched the Disney Princess interlude (it really WAS Princess Night at Barnhill—so many costumes!) and readjusted their crowns. Indeed, the uneven bars WERE much better than they have been in weeks past as senior Keara Glover’s high-flying releases gained a 9.8 for the ‘Backs and fellow senior Erin Freier hit those handstands like I have been coaching her to do for years now (9.825, my Viking girl!). I tried to suppress my glee at the media table as sophomore Braie Speed—brace and all—nailed her exercise with a 9.85 matched only by Wellick.
All was sizzling until an uncharacteristic collapse from the POOGE™ forced Arkansas to keep a too-low 9.7 from senior Stephani Canizaro. Zaziski’s fall, coupled with a major knee injury for Auburn's A’Miracle Phillips (real name), put winning and losing into perspective this evening. (Heal up, A’Miracle!) Still, the show kept moving as the teams entered the third rotation, and less than two-tenths of a point separated the ‘Backs from the Tigers.
I may have been the only one aware of that discrepancy. In post-meet interviews, Nelson shared with me that she and her teammates never look at the scores (this proved to be adorably false, as I will later illustrate). If it is occasionally so however, it is good strategy on the team and the coaching staff’s part. The ladies remained focused despite Auburn’s lead and the nerve-rattling falls.
Senior Syndie Dillard led the third rotation line up on balance beam with a series of pretty connections and walkovers that started the event with a 9.8. Dillard is like Taylor Swift on the red carpet—beautiful, composed, utterly unlikely to show up in pasties and a skirt made of Muppets. She is consistently one of the most reliable members of this team, and I will miss her when she is gone. Moreover, under the direction of beam coach Samantha Snider, the event is so vastly improved for Arkansas as to make me forget all the wine I had to drink to forget some of the nightmare routines of yore.
This evening, Zaziski, Freier and Nelson each brought in 9.825s while Wellick and Nelson centered the event with a pair of 9.85s. If you think this was a weaker showing that the kickass slate of beam routines from Tuscaloosa, that is so—tonight’s ‘Backs were more cautious and it showed in scoring. However, the grease began to pop as Aubie overshot its several E-ranked floor passes that are not yet firing on all cylinders. Still, a 9.9 for Tiger senior Caitlin Atkinson meant that mere tenths of a point still separate the ‘Backs from Aubie. As Kevin Smith: Bard of New Jersey penned, it was tighter than a pair of finger cuffs in there.
Except the skillet was smoking by fourth rotation. Arkansas and Auburn are ranked eleventh and twelfth on beam, respectively, while the ‘Backs rule floor exercise like the Lannisters before Joffrey became king. Dillard, Canizaro, and sophomore Leah MacMoyle all earned 9.85s ("You’re a stone cold fox, Margaret!"), while Auburn’s Taylor Krippner fell off the balance beam. Tiger frosh Emma Engler then had a huge balance check and hurt her ankle on her landing, rolling off the mat. (Heal up, kid. Arkansas hates Auburn, but we love healthy athletes!! ) HERE, though…Samantha Nelson’s later comment proved sweet nonsense. The crowd AND the Squeal Line lost their minds for Nelson’s career floor high of 9.925. THE SLOW SIMMER, SHE BURNS AND HER NAME IS SAMANTHA.
On the strength of their patience and their focus, Arkansas now owns the state of Alabama as the ‘Backs earned a team score of 196.600, to Auburn’s 195.975. Definitive and incredible, Arkansas has now beaten its second top-ten nationally ranked team. Head Coach Mark Cook is rightly proud of their focus and aggression. DAT AGGRESSION, they will need it as they travel to Gainesville next week to take on the number one Gators and their leader, Olympian Bridget Sloan. Bees have to move fast to stay still, but gators can still get gouged. #TUSK