It was so close. Just 0.175 points, in fact. That’s what separated the Arizona GymCats and Arkansas at the Norman regional on Thursday night. It was the difference between grabbing the second qualifying spot for the regional finals and ending the team’s season.
It wasn’t to be for Arizona on this night, but the GymCats earned their second-highest score of the year with a 196.800 to finish third in session two of the Norman regional. It was the highest regional score in Arizona program history.
“We’re back,” head coach John Court said. “We’re here to stay...It only gets better from here.”
The enthusiasm for the future is founded on the youth of the program. Arizona has just one senior and six juniors. Two of those juniors did not compete this season. So, 23 of its 24 routines will be back next season.
There was another silver lining, as well. The GymCats defeated their rival Arizona State which got the regular-season win over Arizona back in February. The 16th-ranked Sun Devils came into the meet expecting to advance along with host Oklahoma. Only the Sooners were ranked higher than ASU in the regional semifinal. Arizona was able to prevent them from advancing.
“So, revenge against the Sun Devils,” said junior beam specialist Sirena Linton. “I feel like that’s something that we always think about every time we go against them. We want to own the state, and I think that tonight we did just that. And I think that now we can take that far and we can run with it going into next year, knowing that we’ve upset a lot of teams...I think that we’ll have this momentum that we will just bring into next year.”
Some of that momentum might still be useful this season. While the decision will not be official until April 2 after the regional finals, it is likely that Linton will advance to nationals as an individual. Her 9.925 on balance beam should make her the highest-qualifying athlete in the region whose team does not qualify.
It wasn’t what Linton or Hargrove wanted to think about after the strong team showing, though.
“Honestly, I want to celebrate the team,” Linton said. “I think that’s most important. Put the team first and know that we have so many successes, we broke so many of the records this year. And I just want to celebrate the team and focus on that. And whatever happens, like Malia said, it’s great that we can represent Arizona doing that if that’s a possibility. If not, we went down fighting just like the rest of my team did.”
Hargrove advanced to nationals as an individual last year on floor exercise. She came close again this year on both floor and all-around, but her numbers will probably not be enough this season. She and teammate Elena Deets finished tied with several other athletes for second on floor exercise with scores of 9.925, however.
The 9.925 on floor exercise was a career high for Deets and tied the career high of Hargrove. It was one of seven GymCat career highs set or matched on the night. In addition to matching her floor exercise high, Hargrove tied her career high on bars (9.900) and set an all-around high at 39.500.
Linton’s 9.925 on beam tied her career high on the event, as did Alysen Fears’ 9.900 on floor exercise. The 9.850 earned by freshman Emily Mueller on uneven parallel bars was a career high for her.