In third place after three events, the No. 18 gymnastics team from Arkansas took to the jump track for a monstrous final spin and fell in Sunday’s quad meet in Denver with a win to end the regular season.
The Gymbacks posted a final score of 49.500 on vault, a leading program in the event. Seniors Savannah Pennese, Amanda Elswick, Kennedy Hambrick and Sarah Shaffer all scored 9.925 seconds for a four-way tie for third place and new career highs for Pennese and Elswick. Arkansas also had another four-way tie for a top three on floor and Hambrick, senior Bailey Lovett and freshmen Maddie Jones and Leah Smith all scored 9.875 for a share of third place.
Arkansas’ big win on Sunday pushed the team to a 6-9 overall season record, and their final score of 196.975 was the third-highest of the season. The Gymbacks hadn’t won a road meet since last year and beat Denver (196.800) for the first time since 2018, Nebraska (195.750) for the first time since 2016 and Oregon State (196.875) for the first time since 2013.
The Hogs now face the playoffs starting with the SEC Championships in Birmingham, Alabama on March 19.
The Gymbacks built on last week’s momentum on bars with another strong rotation on Sunday. Smith started with a regular 9.850 routine to set the pace for Arkansas. Jones delivered a 9.825 in third place with a blocked double layout out to bring up Hambrick, Shaffer and Maggie O’Hara. All three recorded 9.800 for a full rotation of hit routines and a score of 49.075 on the event.
Rookie Kalyxta Gamiao started for the Hogs on beam and delivered a great routine with a blocked out for a 9.850 to beat Arkansas. Junior Kiara Gianfagna showed her veteran consistency in third place with a nailed acro streak and a big 1.5 blocked out for a score of 9.825. Elswick finished with Arkansas’ best score of the day, a 9.875 routine that featured an effortless back spring layout, a series of jumps and a forward aerial. The Hogs posted a total of 49.050 on balance beam.
Arkansas’ floor routine got stronger as it went, and four straight scores of 9.875 led the Gymbacks to a 49.350 total. Jones and Smith continued to show the Hogs’ youngsters have what it takes with crisp passing and choreography in the middle of the lineup, and Hambrick and Lovett finished things off in the five and six spots.
For the second straight Sunday, Arkansas saved the best for last, this time on vault. A last-minute roster change didn’t prove to be a problem for the Gymbacks, as they rose to the challenge in a big way. Pennese started the momentum with a Yurchenko stuck in second place and blew up his previous career with a 9.925. Shaffer then delivered a blocked Yurchenko half for a matching score, which she last posted in 2020. Elswick set a new personal best with her full block for a 9.925, and Hambrick’s Yurchenko 1.5 also got a 9.925 and closed the rotation. Arkansas’ 49.500 is the best in the program and easily surpassed the team’s previous season high of 49.300.
The Gymbacks will begin the playoffs with the SEC Championship on March 19 in Birmingham, Ala. The teams will be divided into two sessions according to the seeds, to be announced. Tickets for the event are available through Ticketmaster.
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