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Strong freshman performances help Arizona GymCats defeat Sacramento State

The Arizona gymnastics team at the home opener against Sacramento State on Jan. 21, 2024 in McKale Center.
Photo courtesy of Arizona Athletics

The Arizona GymCats opened with their highest season-opening score ever in last week's Sprouts Farmers Market Collegiate Quad meet in Utah. They improved on that 196.475 in their home opener against Sacramento State, defeating the Hornets 196.500 to 194.200 at McKale Center on Sunday.

The GymCats started on what turned out to be the lowest-scoring event of the day. Fifth-year grad student Malia Hargrove appeared to improve on a vault that got her a 9.900 last week. She had a slide on the landing in Utah but looked good in the air and on the landing in Tucson with the only flaw being what might have been a low landing. She got a 9.900 from one judge. The 9.850 from the other gave her a 9.875.

Was it actually better?

“It was!” said Arizona head coach John Court. “It was better than last week, but I said our job was to execute our gymnastics at the highest level we can, and then it gets scored.”

Court also got some strong performances from his freshmen despite losing rookie Sophia Maisel to a season-ending Achilles rupture earlier in the week. First-year GymCats Sophie Derr, Ainsley Greever, and Abigayle Martin were all influential in the final outcome.

Martin and Greever helped Arizona on the vault, which Court noted was a tightly-scored event for both teams. Both scored 9.725 in their home debuts. Derr exhibited on the event, getting a 9.725 in a score that didn’t count for the end result.

Derr then followed up with the team’s highest score on the bars and one of the highest scores on any event. Her 9.900 followed a mistake by senior Bailey McCabe, With every other GymCat scoring at least a 9.775, Arizona dropped McCabe’s 9.350. That 9.775 came from Martin.

The big score was a bit of a surprise for Derr.

“I went in not really thinking about the score, but just focusing on everything one thing at a time, and just what I was doing in that moment, and not the big picture,” Derr said. “But it was really refreshing almost to get that score and it was exciting.”

It was an improvement for Derr on her best event. She debuted with a 9.725 last week.

“I was a little nervous,” Derr said about last week. “So I think it was a really good week for me to get all my nerves out. But this was way more fun, in my opinion. Being at home. And I learned how to control my nerves and be more confident.”

Martin again had an impact on beam, giving the GymCats a 9.800. That was behind the 9.825 from senior Jessica Castles and junior Alysen Fears’ 9.875, but it helped make it possible for Arizona to drop Emily Mueller’s 9.700.

The two middle events scored 49.125 each for Arizona. That gave the team a large 1.250 lead heading into the final event. The GymCats would be on floor while the Hornets went to the beam.

Floor exercise turned into the best event of the day for Arizona. No one scored lower than the 9.825 that senior Elena Deets got leading off. The team got scores of 9.900 from both Fears and Hargrove.

Fears was Arizona’s only all-arounder of the day as Hargrove sat out the beam this week. Fears beat out the two all-around competitors for Sacramento State by scoring 39.350, tying her career high. She also tied her career high on the balance beam.

After the third week of the season and the GymCats’ second week of competition, Arizona is ranked 19th in the country at Road to Nationals. That’s fifth among the eight teams in the Pac-12. Standings are currently based on an average of all meet scores. Later in the season, teams will be allowed to drop certain low-scoring meets.