I like the word “grit.” Always have. As a product of Louisiana and Southwest Arkansas, I know “grit” can be made plural to describe delicious breakfast delicacies served with shrimp and cheese. I also know that “grit” may be used to describe one’s general character, as in “That girl’s got grit.” Despite Arkansas’ heartbreaker of a loss in Tuscaloosa last evening, the Gymbacks have proved that they have grit in spades.
The fifth-ranked ‘Backs fought valiantly from the first event as they squared off against sixth-ranked, and defending national champion, Alabama. Opening on the uneven parallel bars looked promising, as Jordan Salzburg and Stephanie Canizaro earned a 9.775 and 9.75, respectively, that quieted the “Roll Tides” in the stands. However, uncharacteristic bobbled-landings from Katherine Grable and Mariah Howdershell unnerved the ‘Backs, as did Shelby Salmon’s unfortunate (and painful-looking) face-first fall from the high bar. Bama’s crowd graciously cheered on Salmon as she dusted herself off to complete her routine while the Crimson Tide squad performed six beautiful vaults from which Bama senior Geralen Stack Eaton earned the night’s first 9.95, and an overall Tide score of 49.925. Still, Gymback Jamie Pisani’s elegant and complicated bar routine earned a 9.85 and kept the ‘Backs in the competition with an overall score of 48.95.
A rotation from bars to vault proved Arkansas’ will to fight. All six Gymbacks showcased clean, strong vault exercises, with Scarlett Williams’ 9.90 and a refreshed Katherine Grable’s 9.925 as particular standouts that culminated in an Arkansas team score of 98.350. However, Alabama kept its momentum on the uneven bars for a team total of 98.825. Less than a point separated Arkansas from Alabama as the Gymbacks prepared for floor exercises—an event in which the ‘Backs usually dominate. However, fatigue and stress began exerting their toll as typical fireball Bailee Zumwalde performed a slightly lethargic dance, and Stephanie Canizaro crash-landed a tumbling pass on an otherwise pretty routine. (I have a theory about problems that plagued the normally fierce Zumwalde and Canizaro; namely that Alabama’s sound tech insisted on playing a combination of Miley Cyrus and Rascal Flatts in between floor exercises. That’d be enough to mess with my head in a completely negative way.) Other Gymbacks came to the rescue, as Kelci Lewis turned in a complicated, well-execute routine and Jamie Pisani proved why she is ranked number one nationally in floor events. Arkansas finished on floor with a team score of 147.525. Meanwhile, Alabama managed the balance beam with simplistic but clean routines that earned them a team total of 148.050.
On the final exercise, Alabama tackled floor with aplomb while Arkansas took to the balance beam—or, as it is known by me, “That Thing where Dreams Go to Die.” Arkansas’ hope of snapping its poor road-streak collapsed as the Gymbacks fought through the Devil’s Playground. Freshman Sammy Kolbas performed her first beam as a Razorback, earning a 9.70. The rest of her teammates struggled, with Scarlett Williams falling off the beam and climbing back on to stick a clean landing, the generally terrific Jordan Salzburg nearly losing her own balance, and element issues affecting the rest of the Gymbacks squad. Alabama clinched victory with a 197.65, while Arkansas earned a 196.125.
“Grit” may seem like a strange way to describe this loss, yet I think it is wholly applicable. Scarcely a month ago, Arkansas enjoyed a number-one ranking, only to fall to a number-eight ranked Florida squad. Other road losses include Oklahoma and Georgia, and now Alabama. The pressure is on. Still the ‘Backs fight, keeping scores close, getting back on the beam or the bars, and finishing what they start when it would clearly be much easier to stop giving it a hundred percent—especially when they may only be feeling seventy percent. The ‘Backs have the grit to keep going and the grit to get their proverbial hat back in the ring. Bring it on, Nebraska. The Gymbacks will.