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The popularity of gymnastics at the University of Arkansas has been on the rise, and as a result, tickets to a meet in Barnhill Arena have been in high demand in recent years. The Arkansas Gymbacks have been really good under third-year head coach Jordan Wieber, finishing in the top 10 in last year’s College Gymnastics Association’s national rankings.
Combine that with the fact that Olympic gold medalist Sunisa Lee is coming to town for a meet this season, and you’ve got the recipe for the need for a bigger stage.
UA officials on Monday announced the Gymbacks will host their first-ever meet inside the nearly 20,000-seat Bud Walton Arena when they take on Lee and the Auburn Tigers on Jan. 14.
Lee, a native of Saint Paul, Minnesota, starred at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics this summer, taking the gold medal in the all-around, as well as earning a team silver medalist and a bronze in the uneven bars. Lee filled in for Simone Biles at the 2020 games in the all-around competition after Biles withdrew from the event due to challenges with what gymnasts call “the twisties,” a mental block causing gymnasts and others to lose their sense of space and dimension in the air. Her performance in Tokyo was one of the more compelling stories from this year’s Olympic Games and made Lee a household name all over the US. She is set to compete as a freshman for Auburn this year in her first year as a college gymnast.
Sunisa Lee / Photo: AuburnTigers.com
The matchup with Auburn at Bud Walton is one of five home meets announced as part of the Gymback’s upcoming 2022 season, with the rest set for the team’s regular home in Barnhill Arena.
The team will kick off the season in Barnhill with a Jan. 7 meet versus Ohio State out of the Big 10 conference. Conference competition will begin with the Auburn meet on Jan. 14, followed by a midseason non-conference matchup with West Virginia on Feb. 4, a home conference meet with Kentucky on Feb. 11, and finishing up the home schedule versus Georgia on Feb. 25.
The team will travel to LSU on Jan 21, Florida on Jan. 28, Missouri on Feb. 18, Alabama on March 4, before closing the regular season with multi-team meets at Elevate the Stage (Arkansas, Georgia, Auburn and Alabama) on March 6, and at Denver (Denver, Nebraska) on Sunday, March 13.
The Gymbacks return 12 athletes from last year’s team that finished ranked 10th in the country, including NCAA Championships individual qualifiers Kennedy Hambrick and Maggie O’Hara.
Hambrick finished fifth overall in the all-around last year and is a four-time All-American. She also finished fifth on bars and sixth on vault and beam in the NCAAs last season.
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