Hunter Yurachek has had a busy tenure as Arkansas’ Athletic Director. He’s already had to hire a football and basketball coach, but has met the challenge, and been pretty universally praised. Among all this noise, however, another hire of his has gone slightly under the radar. I’m referring of course to the hiring of Olympic and World Champion Jordyn Wieber as head coach of the Arkansas Gymnastics team.
The Gymbacks have opened the year ranked #19 in the country, as Wieber’s arrival has brought high expectations. That isn’t to diminish from the talent that was already there though, as Sophia Carter and Hailey Garner both competed at the NCAA Championship last year, with Carter representing Arkansas on floor and Garner on beam.
In addition to the aforementioned Carter and Garner, the roster is rounded out by freshmen Makenna Clarke, Kiara Gianfagna, Madison Hickey, Bailey Lovett, Sydney McGlone, and Carissa Patton; sophomores Katarina Derrick, Amanda Elswick, Kennedy Hambrick, and Savannah Pennese; juniors Kailey Gillings, Sydney Laird, and Sarah Shaffer; and senior Jessica Yazmon.
Wieber wasted no time adding to that roster, as she signed four prospects in the early signing period for 2020-21 season, adding Emma Kelley, Jordan Olszewski, Gillian Rutz, and Jensen Scalzo to an already stacked roster. Kelley, it’s worth noting, is the daughter of Mary Lou Retton(!).
I’m really excited to see how far this program can go under Wieber. She’s got the distinct recruiting advantage of being one of the best gymnasts in history, and comes from UCLA’s incredibly prestigious program. With the program already set up to succeed under legendary former coach Mark Cook, I believe Wieber has the blueprint to turn this already strong program into a powerhouse.
Anecdotally speaking, Arkansas gymnastics meets are incredibly fun. The crowd in Barnhill can get as rocking as the wildest of basketball games in Bud Walton, and the fan interaction keeps the energy high. Obviously, you’re also getting to see a team of gymnasts test the limits of what is humanly possible too, and that, quite frankly, should be enough. I have no understanding of the rules of gymnastics, and still found myself having a phenomenal time at every meet I attended when I was in school. With the hype surrounding Wieber’s tenure, I can only imagine how packed Barnhill will be.
The Gymbacks will open the season on Friday January 10 at Florida at 6pm CT, but you can catch their home opener against Denver on January 17 at 7pm CT. With this much excitement around the program, I’m excited to see where the team goes from here.
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