FAYETTEVILLE — Injuries and inconsistency have marked the first half of the season for the University of Arkansas’ gymnastics team.
The No. 22 Razorbacks are still dealing with the first of those issues for today’s 7 p.m. meet against No. 8 Alabama, but they hope to make inroads with the second as they return to Barnhill Arena for the first time since their season opener against Oklahoma on Jan. 5.
The annual Flip For the Cure meet, in which both teams will wear pink, is to raise breast cancer awareness.
Arkansas (1-6) managed just a dual meet victory at No. 18 Arizona over the last four meets, though the Razorbacks have posted back-to-back season-best scores of 195.825 and 196.125 the last two weeks in losses at the Metroplex Challenge and at No. 6 Georgia.
“We’re a little inconsistent,” Arkansas coach Mark Cook said. “We’ve been struggling a little on uneven parallel bars. We need to dial that in better.
“And it’s hard on the road. You have to adapt to subtleties. We haven’t done that as well as we could have, should have. But again, we have half a season left.”
The Razorbacks will have to compete today without sophomore all-arounder Sarah Shaffer, one of the team’s best vaulters and floor workers, who suffered a mild concussion last week at Georgia.
Cook expects to have juniors Jessica Yamzon and Michaela Burton as well as freshman Kennedy Hambrick in the all-around to account for half of the routines. Freshman Amanda Elswick could join the floor exercise lineup as she continues recovering from a preseason ankle injury.
Alabama, coming off a victory at Missouri, maxed out at 196.9 in a victory at Georgia on Jan. 18 and has scored 196.85 or better in each of the last three meets.
Though the Crimson Tide has dominated the series, Arkansas has won three of the last four dual meets between the programs.
“I feel they’re vulnerable,” Cook said. “I think we can get them at home. That’s going to be our objective.
“They’re a good, solid program and they always have been. But we’ve had their number for the last couple of years off and on. We’re going to go after them.”
Alabama has won its previous two road meets this year, at Georgia and Missouri.
“There are no nights off in the SEC,” Alabama coach Dana Duckworth said.
“You have to be ready every time out. But I think that’s what makes this conference so great when it comes to the postseason. Everyone in this league has been tested by the time we get to March and April.”
The Razorbacks are in the midst of adding more difficult elements in several events. Elswick performed the first Yurchenko 1 1/2 vault, which has a 10.0 start value, in program history last week. Hambrick might be in position to upgrade to the same vault tonight, depending on how training went late in the week.
If Elswick can break into the floor lineup, she’ll have a double Arabian Front available on one of her tumbling passes, which Shaffer has performed this year. Sydney McGlone, the Razorbacks’ highest-rated vaulter, has been doing a double layout on the floor as well.
Sophia Carter’s floor exercise remains the Razorbacks’ top-rated routine with a 9.905 average that ranks No. 12 in the nation. The sophomore is expected to compete on floor, beam and bars tonight.
“Sophia’s killing it,” Cook said. “She’s really so artistic on that event, and balance beam. Those are her really strong events.”