2021 – 13th
2020 – 18th
2019 – 18th
2018 – 10th
2017 – 19th
2016 – 20th
2015 – 14th
2014 – 15th
2013 – 10th
2012 – 6th
2021 IN REVIEW
While Arkansas’s final ranking of 13th is sort of middle-of-the-road in terms of program history, that undersells the significance of a season in which the team set records all over the place. March 5th’s total score of 197.425 was the highest ever recorded by Arkansas—breaking the previous record of 197.350 that the team had set a cool 14 days earlier—and Arkansas finished the season at #3 nationally on floor, also an all-time high for any apparatus. In all, four of the top six scores in Arkansas’s 19-year history belong to that 2021 squad…so you could say it went pretty well.
Sophia Carter – UB, BB, FX
Gillian Rutz – UB, BB
Jordan Olszewski – VT
THE NEW ONES
Expect Arkansas’s first-year gymnasts to be prolific. The team has not lost all that much from last season—exactly one postseason routine on each event—which means a lineup remodel in 2022 is far from necessary. Yet, a noteworthy characteristic of this season’s roster is just how much quality and how many routines are now coming from seniors and fifth years. Arkansas doesn’t get a ton of routines out of the juniors and sophomores, so in future seasons, expect this year’s new class to become the program-defining group tasked with carrying the load. Even in 2022, we should see quite a bit from them.
Most notable in this new class is Leah Smith. Previously verballed to Washington before switching to Arkansas this year, Smith was one of the very best L10s in the country in 2021, winning the Nastia Cup and placing 2nd AA in her division at L10 Nationals. I’d consider Smith the best L10 tumbler entering college gymnastics this year, and huge scores will be realistic for her there (and elsewhere).
This is, for the most part, a vault and floor class. Makenzie Sedlacek also excels on those pieces, and her Yurchenko 1.5 will need to get in the vault lineup. Kalyxta Gamiao has the full complement of skills on floor, and Frankie Price has tremendous potential on both (though is dealing with a 2021 injury that may temper expectations for the upcoming season). We may see Maddie Jones and Cami Weaver largely in “backup options as needed depending on team health” territory, but watch out for Jones on bars. There’s a lot of ability there.
While Arkansas has lost a couple important routines from Sophia Carter, this year’s team gains far more than it is loses, which should be a recipe for continuing the upward trajectory established last season. The next step for Arkansas is reaching the top 8 and advancing to nationals, which will not be easy given the national quality this year but should absolutely be entertained as a realistic goal for the 2022 season.
2021 Event Ranking: 13
|Lineup locks: Kennedy Hambrick, Makenzie Sedlacek, Leah Smith, Amanda Elswick, Sarah Shaffer|
|Lineup options: Frankie Price, Abby Johnston, Cami Weaver, Kalyxta Gamiao, Savannah Pennese, Madison Hickey|
On vault, Arkansas stands to improve the most compared to 2021’s lineup. Quite frequently last season, Arkansas had to count some 9.7ish Yfulls that kept the total mired in the 49.1s. For 2022, the lineup should be able to retain only the strongest vaults from last year—those from Hambrick, Elswick, and Shaffer—and supplement them with new vaulters. Sedlacek’s Y1.5 has scored very well this year in L10 (save for a fall blip at nationals), and I’d treat Leah Smith as a vault lock as well. Smith frequently competed a huge Yfull in L10 that looks infinitely upgradeable, but whether she’s doing a full or more, she’ll be needed.
Ideally you’d also have Frankie Price joining this vault lineup (like Smith, she competes a huge full that could be more), but if injury recovery does not allow it, Arkansas will also have Abby Johnston returning from last season who can absolutely go and score well, Savannah Pennese who started to find her scores at the end of last year, and new vaults from Gamiao and Weaver. Keep an eye on Weaver. She added a Y1.5 to her repertoire in 2020, and while she’s never really had consistency with it, it exists. And if not, she has a competitive full.
2021 Event Ranking: 9
|Lineup locks: Maggie O’Hara, Kennedy Hambrick, Sarah Shaffer, Leah Smith|
|Lineup options: Maddie Jones, Bailey Lovett, Kiara Gianfagna, Makenzie Sedlacek, Jensen Scalzo, Frankie Price, Kalyxta Gamiao|
Bars was a strength for Arkansas last season with Hambrick and O’Hara hanging out in the last two spots and getting all the 9.9s. Since the biggest scores return to the roster this year, things are staged for another successful bars lineup. Many of the spots in that lineup, however, still look like they could go several directions. Most of the freshmen are capable and believable on bars, but not obvious locks, so they may contend with the early-lineup returners from last season like Gianfagna and Scalzo to see who proves the highest scorers.
I do expect to see Leah Smith in there, joining O’Hara, Hambrick, and Shaffer. Smith will get more attention for floor and vault I’m sure, but she has a crisp and efficient bars routine ready for that minimal-deduction college life. Maddie Jones has a floaty Pak (with legs together no less) and all the necessary skills and handstands, so while she didn’t always get the scores in L10, Arkansas’s most talented possible bars lineup probably has her in it.
How many spots are available for new gymnasts in this lineup may be dependent on Bailey Lovett, who has excellent ability on bars but is always in “is she healthy enough to go?” limbo. The elbow surgery that ended her season last year must, er, be taken into account when making bars plans.
2021 Event Ranking: 11
|Lineup locks: Kennedy Hambrick, Maggie O’Hara, Bailey Lovett, Sarah Shaffer|
|Lineup options: Makenzie Sedlacek, Kiara Gianfagna, Amanda Elswick, Leah Smith, Frankie Price, Cami Weaver, Kalyxta Gamiao, Maddie Jones|
If there’s an event Arkansas should be worried about this year, it’s beam. It was a somewhat nerve-wracking rotation last year, and the team has lost lineup lock Sophia Carter without bringing in an obvious 9.9er to fill the position. There’s still a useful returning core, though. Hambrick will get big scores, and Arkansas will want to get Lovett and O’Hara back in there as well. Even though beam has never been Shaffer’s most comfortable event, she was in the lineup pretty much every meet last season and I imagine will be relied upon again in 2022.
But some diamond-in-the-rough first years will likely need to emerge to keep Arkansas competitive. How many may depend on whether Gianfagna and Elswick are able to earn solid positions in the six this year. But for however many first-year spots it ends up being, it’s going to be a leaps race. Who can put together a routine that minimizes leap and extension deductions enough to get into the lineup? Sedlacek looks like a reasonable option, and while beam is definitely the weak event of the four for Smith, she could do it. There are several here with lower beam scores in L10 who could become beamers in college, and I’d put both Price and Weaver in that category.
2021 Event Ranking: 3
|Lineup locks: Leah Smith, Kennedy Hambrick|
|Lineup options: Bailey Lovett, Frankie Price, Kalyxta Gamiao, Makenzie Sedlacek, Sarah Shaffer, Abby Johnston, Madison Hickey, Cami Weaver, Maddie Jones|
Arkansas’s current plan is to burn the faces of its enemies on floor. This is a team that ranked third on floor last season, lost one routine, and is bringing in a whole new class of floor stars. Which…sort of creates problems when it comes to concocting a lineup, leaving few locks and a lot of “well, she should…” As mentioned, Smith is going to be exceptional on floor, and Frankie Price is nearly to the same level depending on her injury situation, with an exceptional DLO. Sedlacek and Gamiao also bring very good full-ins—floor is definitely Gamiao’s best event, and it’s probably top two for Sedalcek.
And then there’s Kennedy Hambrick who will obviously return to a place of power in the lineup, Bailey Lovett with her 9.9s, Sarah Shaffer and Abby Johnston with their usually-almost 9.9s, and those are just the best 8 options on the list, with Hickey who competed every week last season also in the mix. It’s a deep enough lineup that if everyone is healthy, Arkansas could be leaving 9.900s on the sideline, and when everyone isn’t healthy, because obviously, there should always be a winning six that can go.