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Season-high score secures Arizona gymnastics’ first Pac-12 win of 2023

The Arizona GymCats huddle during their win over Washington on Feb. 10, 2023
Photo courtesy of Arizona Athletics

Arizona gymnastics has not been a strong vaulting team the last several years. It might be time to put that to rest, though, as the GymCats scored a 49 or better in their third straight meet on Friday evening as they defeated Washington 196.800 to 196.750.

“We only had three 49s all last season,” said Arizona head coach John Court.

Arizona scored a 49 or better on all four events on the way to its first Pac-12 win of the season. The victory wasn’t what mattered most to Court or his gymnasts, though.

“Execution,” Court said. “We went 24 for 24. That’s big for me. The 196.8, that’s big for me. This was the highest score since last year at regionals. That’s big. So, we take that momentum. The W is important. We hope that we get it, and we have to not beat ourselves. We’ve been doing that a little bit. We had some people out. We had some new people go in tonight. Everybody stepped up, and there was a lot of belief tonight. A great stepping stone going into next week.”

Court said that no one is out for the season, but they are dealing with several small injuries and illnesses. Among those missing was Elena Deets, who is a big performer for the GymCats on bars and beam. Deets will be out for a few more weeks. Jessica Castles was also limited due to illness, although she still accounted for important scores on vault and beam.

Castles had a nearly perfect performance on beam. It was so perfect that Court thought she would finally break through with a 10.0 for an Arizona gymnast. Instead, it was a career-high 9.925 as one judge gave her 9.900 and the other 9.950.

“I don’t know what else she can do,” Court said about how Castles can earn a perfect 10.

He didn’t spend a lot of time ruminating on that, though. As he has said many times before, it’s a subjective sport and all they can worry about is execution.

The absence of Deets on bars opened the door for Taylor Raskin to compete. It was the first competition for the junior since her freshman season. She earned a 9.775.

Castles being under the weather opened a position on floor. Freshmen Jordan Schultz and Emma Strom both got to compete in the event.

With the improvement on vault, Arizona is no longer putting itself in a big hole early in the meet. That made the absences on bars less damaging and kept the door open for the win.

“It’s been good improving on vault,” senior Malia Hargrove said. “One of our weakest events. Just continuing to grow, stick those landings, and keeping it tight.”

Castles had a 9.825 on vault and Elizabeth LaRusso had a 9.850. One of the biggest improvements on the event has come from Hargrove, though.

Hargrove is the only one on the team who is competing a vault worth a 10.0. She started with it last season, but she and her coaches eventually scratched it because it wasn’t ready yet. On Friday, she earned a 9.875 to tie for first on the event.

“She’s doing really well,” Court said. “She tries to stick it now. Last year, we were just trying to land on our feet.”

The strong vault was followed by an improving bar rotation, but Arizona was still in a hole heading into its two strongest events.

Castles and Hargrove were crucial in helping put together a strong outing on beam, earning a 9.925 and 9.900, respectively. Castles had the highest score of the night on the event and Hargrove tied with Washington’s Deiah Moody for second.

The Huskies had a strong score on floor, though, and were still leading heading into the final rotation.

Arizona moved to floor, where its highest score of the season was 49.200. The GymCats trailed UW 147.725 to 147.500.

The home team went out and put together its highest score of the season on floor despite being without some of its regulars. The 49.300 on the event still wouldn’t have been enough if UW hadn’t faltered on beam, though.

The Huskies had to keep a 9.700 from former GymCat Kennedi Davis when all-arounder Skylar Killough-Wilhelm scored just 9.350. With Arizona getting 9.900 or better on the floor from Hargrove, Emily Mueller, and Caroline Herry and a 9.775 or better from Strom and LaRusso, it was enough for the GymCats to squeak out the 0.050 victory.

“That’s what makes it fun,” Hargrove said. “When it’s tight and you know you have to hit, and you just leave it all on the floor.”

Hargrove and Mueller both competed in the all-around, finishing first and second with a 39.475 and a 39.300. It was only the second time in her college career that Mueller has done all four events. Hargrove’s score was just 0.025 short of her career high of 39.500.

Arizona improved to 5-5 overall and 1-3 in Pac-12 competition.