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Arizona GymCats felled by their best event in home opener

Freshman Emily Mueller stood out in her first collegiate all-around competition

Arizona freshman gymnast Emily Mueller scored over 39 in her first collegiate all-around performance.
Photo courtesy of Arizona Athletics

When the Arizona GymCats opened with a lower score than they would have liked on vault, it didn’t seem like a big problem. They were moving on to the uneven bars, which was their strongest event in the season opener last week and has historically been a strong event for them. Instead, the rotation put them into a hole that they couldn’t escape as they went on to finish fourth in a quad meet featuring Oklahoma, Utah State, and Stanford.

“We’re a very good team that made some mistakes,” said Arizona head coach John Court. “But you can tell we’re a good team because we left the mistakes at the event. That’s how you can tell if we’re really dialed in, they’re trusting their training, if they’re trusting in what we’re telling them in the gym, what we’re telling them in the meets, because, hey, falls happen.”

The 193.775 was the lowest score the program had posted since February 2018 when the GymCats only recorded two scores on vault and three on floor exercise for a 145.375 total. Oklahoma finished first with a score of 197.900. The Sooners were followed by USU (196.350) and Stanford (195.725).

At Southern Utah last week, the GymCats got their only score over 49 on the uneven bars. They finished with a 49.050 in their opening meet, but they couldn’t maintain that this week at home. Things went awry very early when the second gymnast, senior McKinzie Kane, fell twice. Arizona had to hope to drop her 8.425.

It didn’t happen, as Kane was followed by an even scarier fall by Malia Hargrove. Hargrove came off the top bar and went flying towards the bottom bar. She didn’t strike the lower bar, but she did stay down for a while as the trainers and coaches checked on her. Hargrove did not continue and received a 1.000. She was scratched from the final two events.

“It can be hard but you’re just gonna just start your training and stay in your moment and just know, hoping praying she’s gonna be alright,” said freshman all-arounder Emily Mueller.

It looked like the team had recovered when sophomore Elena Deets stepped up and scored a career-high 9.825 after the two falls by her teammates. Bailey McCabe followed that with a 9.775.

Then came the anchor. Alysen Fears is a freshman, but she was the national champion on bars at the developmental level last year. She scored a 9.850 in her college debut last week, but this week she couldn’t catch her release move and received a 9.275.

“She’s mad because she fell,” Court said. “I don’t think we’ll see that too many times during her career but she brought it back on beam and then she brought it back on floor.”

Being forced to count two falls left Arizona with a 47.000 on the bars. That put them more than two points behind Utah State, which was in third place after two rotations.

Arizona rebounded on the balance beam. While junior Avery Stauffacher fell, the rest of the team put up big scores and they were able to drop her 9.150.

“It’s gymnastics, it happens and we do everything every single day in the gym, we’ve done it 1000 times, and we know what we’re doing,” Mueller said about how the team came back on beam. “So we just got to stay dialed in and locked in.”

Mueller was a major reason the GymCats were able to get back on track after Stauffacher’s fall. The freshman stepped up and scored a 9.825 after her teammate’s mishap.

Sirena Linton closed out the rotation with a career high of 9.925, giving Arizona its best team event score of the night with a 49.225.

The team closed out the night with a solid showing on floor exercise. They just missed the 49-point mark with a 48.900. Fears and sophomore Caroline Herry both scored over 9.8 for Arizona.

In addition to her big night on beam, Mueller also had a strong showing in the all-around with a 39.075. Along with fellow freshman Fears, Mueller competed in all four events for the GymCats. She did not score below 9.700 on any event and put up big scores on vault (9.800) and balance beam (9.825).

Court was pleased that his team was able to close out the meet on a high note despite losing one of their best and most experienced gymnasts.

“Two years ago, when the anchor goes out halfway, there’d be no quality competitive replacement,” Court said. “We wouldn’t have one and you see that’s different and that’s why...I know that everything that we’re doing...for the program is working.”

Arizona will next compete at UCLA on Jan. 30 in a meet that will be aired on the Pac-12 Network.