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Record-tying bars rotation gives Arizona GymCats rare 197 in win over Stanford

Arizona GymCats celebrate during meet against Stanford on Jan. 27, 2024
Photo courtesy of Arizona Athletics

Teams have been setting program records around college gymnastics in the early part of the season to the point that fans, the media, and even former judges are discussing score inflation. While it has historically been rare for the Arizona GymCats to be one of the teams that gets overscored, they certainly got in on the record-setting trend in a 197 to 196 victory over Stanford on Saturday afternoon.

“I think it’s awesome,” said fifth-year senior Malia Hargrove. “I think it just shows how hard we’ve been working in the gym, how hard we’ve been preparing, and how good we actually are. And that was still 197 with some bobbles and falls, so I just can’t wait till we all hit. See how much higher we can go.”

Last year, Arizona earned its first 197-or-higher score since 2015. That feat was accomplished as the GymCats celebrated senior day on March 10, 2023. At the time, head coach John Court joked that he was the only person in the program who had ever seen a 197. To do it again in just their third meet of the 2024 season was a major accomplishment.

As for the overscoring debates, Court said it’s just part of the sport.

“I’ve always seen it,” Court said. “I think it’s been around for 30 years. Scoring’s subjective and inflation is everywhere. It’s everywhere in society. But in gymnastics, I think it’s hard. I think the officials have a hard job. They are human. There’s a human element to it. And at the end of the day, we just hope that you judge what you see and you don’t—I call it ‘leotard judge.’ And you don’t want to do that because you don’t want to come in the building and say, ‘You wanna know what? They’re better because they’ve always been better.’ You hope that that never happens but the sport being so subjective, sometimes it does happen. But it’s been—every year there is something, whether it’s something in Tennessee...there’s always something every every single year, and you can’t control that.”

“Tennessee” means the Tennessee Collegiate Classic, where several gymnasts from smaller schools got perfect 10s and every team set a program record on Jan. 17. Court joked that if he was able, he would have the GymCats compete there three times.

There were no perfect 10s for Arizona in its Pac-12 opening win over Stanford. There was a 49.475 on the uneven bars, though. That tied the program record on the event. That record was set in 2001. It also included a 10 from one judge for freshman Abigayle Martin. The other judge gave her a 9.95, resulting in a career high final score of 9.975.

“I’ve never thought of bars as my best or my favorite, but it’s definitely the event that I have to work the hardest on,” Martin said. “So seeing that score for me meant a lot more than it would anywhere else.”

It wasn’t the first big score of Martin’s young career, and that is not a surprise. She and teammate Sophie Derr were rated four-star recruits in the class of 2023 by College Gym News. Their class also includes three-star recruits Ainsley Greever and Tirzah Wise. As a group, the class was ranked 24th in the country. They’re living up to those rankings, too.

In addition to her 9.975 on bars, Martin scored 9.800 on both the vault and balance beam. That comes one week after scoring 9.725 on vault, 9.775 on bars, and 9.800 on beam.

Her classmates were also contributing big numbers. Greever had a 9.750 on vault, up from 9.725 last week. For the second straight week, Derr scored a 9.900 on bars.

“We have a great freshman class,” Martin said. “There’s six of us, and I think we’re all really close. And I feel like we can bring a lot to this team and this program. And I think that that starts now, but it’s gonna just keep improving each meet, each week, and each year, too.”

It wasn’t all about the youth. Hargrove continues to be an outstanding athlete who doesn’t get as much national attention as she should. Her decision to come back for her fifth year gives the GymCats a gymnast who can perform all four events for high scores, although she hasn’t competed on the beam the past two weeks.

“I had an extra year of schooling, so I was gonna be here anyways,” Hargrove said. “And then I had a COVID year because my freshman year got cut short, so we didn’t finish the season. So I was like, why not? I was super excited for the incoming freshmen. I was super excited to pick up from last year and just see how much better we can be and be able to contribute to that.”

She’s definitely contributing. Hargrove is the linchpin on the vault, where she’s the only Arizona gymnast whose vault has a 10.0 start value. That means that she’s the only one who can possibly score a 10 on the event.

She’s put together three beautiful vaults in three meets this season. They all scored big, just not quite as big as she’d like.

“I feel great,” Hargrove said. “Vault’s my favorite event and I’m just so happy to show and perform it and show how well I can do it. Waiting for that 10 still.”

That 10 for Hargrove would help, but it’s more important that all 24 routines are good.

“If you look at our scoring this year, it’s 196.475, 196.5, 197,” Court said. “We didn’t have these scores last year until March. So that means we’re doing things right, we’re improving. We’re showing a lot of growth. But come Sunday at midnight, the moment’s over. That’s what I always say. I’ll play golf tomorrow. These guys will have a day off with their friends and families. And come Monday, it’s back to the grind and get ready for UCLA. But the 197 is, I mean, that’s a fantastic score. You can do a lot scoring that against anybody, but you have to do your job. Everyone has to do their job.”