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Balance beam fells the Arizona GymCats in Pac-12 opener against Oregon State

Photo courtesy of Arizona Athletics

It might be time to stop talking about the Arizona GymCats being weak on vaulting. For the second straight week, the team broke 49 points on the event, but setbacks on the balance beam kept them from defeating the Oregon State Beavers after outscoring them in a tri-meet last week. The visitors took the Pac-12 opener by a score of 196.400 to 196.150.

“Well, you said (vault was the weak event) for a couple years,” GymCats head coach John Court said. “I’ve really taken offense to that. Yeah, we got to do something about it. And they’ve been working really hard over there. And they’ve been working on their landings every day in practice since September, and we had a really good week. We had a great warm up. And we have more natural vaulters. So it makes it a little bit easier for us as a team. And that’s where we want to be. I mean, it was no surprise what they did tonight, all six of them. And it was also the official return of Payton Bellows who played tonight. She has not been active since February of 2017.”

The GymCats opened on vault with a solid 9.750 from freshman Dani Nosek. Their only scores below 9.800 were from their two freshmen, and senior Maddi Leydin wrapped up the event with a 9.900. The big score from Leydin was a season high and matched her career high. It was enough for the GymCats to take the 49.100-49.025 lead after the first rotation.

Things looked even brighter for the home team after the second rotation. The GymCats once again broke 49 points with a 49.050 on bars. Once again a senior led them when Chrissy Berg put up her own 9.900 to anchor the rotation. Meanwhile, the Beavers were putting together a 48.975 on vault, allowing Arizona to increase their lead to a full tenth with a 98.150-98.050 score.

Then, things went off the rails. The four inches of the balance beam proved to be the killer.

Arizona opened with a solid 9.725 from Haylie Hendrickson, but trouble struck for freshman Avery Stauffacher.

“She did a leap that was not executed properly,” Court said. “And they didn’t award it therefore start value was lower. And she didn’t repeat the leap. So if that ever happens again, she’ll go back and she’ll repeat it.”

When Leydin fell from the apparatus later in the rotation, the GymCats had to count the 9.500 from Stauffacher. They fell behind by almost .500, and it looked like the meet was over.

A strong performance on floor exercise closed some of that gap, with the GymCats scoring 49.175 to the Beavers 49.100 on balance beam. It just wasn’t quite enough.

“My hat’s off to Oregon State,” Court said. “They are a very, very good team. They’re coached well, and they’re motivated. So we knew it was going to come down to the wire as far as the win-loss part of it. But I always say if you’re going to lose, lose with the 196.”

The GymCats hope to get some of their injured and sick athletes back before they face off against the formidable Red Rocks of Utah. In addition to injuries to Courtney Cowles and Laura Leigh Horton, Kennedi Davis was out with illness on Saturday.

“Courtney will be out (on floor exercise) for probably a couple of weeks,” Court said. “She should be back in on beam next week if she has a good week of practice. She tweaked her shoulder a little bit. So we’re working on that. And Laura Leigh has an ankle stinger. So, hopefully we will get her back against UCLA.”

The GymCats host Utah next week. The meet starts at 2 p.m. MST on Saturday, Feb. 1 in McKale Center.