Razorbacks Ready to Rise in Fort Worth – 2024 NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships Preview

Razorbacks Ready to Rise in Fort Worth – 2024 NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships Preview

By Christy Sandmaier

Not done yet. Arkansas came out of the gates on a mission in 2024, breaking program records left and right, and are headed back to the NCAA Championships for the first time since 2018 and for the first time under head coach Jordyn Wieber.  

At the Fayetteville Regional Final, Arkansas built momentum throughout the meet and broke through as one of the top two teams on the day with a score of 197.825, the second-highest in program history and setting a new regional record. It’s the program’s ninth berth to nationals and their first since the format switched from 12 teams to an “Elite 8” in 2019. 

“We have so much to be proud of this season, even if it ended right now. I would be so proud of the program and the team and the growth we’ve achieved this season,” Wieber told us after Regionals. “But knowing that we have another opportunity to go out there and show who we are as a program, as a team, I’m just really proud of all of the hard work not only our coaching staff, but our team has put in. Everybody has been so bought in this year to what our goal is and what we want to accomplish… Every meet, it’s just been an opportunity to show who we are as a program. And we get to do that on the biggest stage, which is such an opportunity and a blessing.”

Their success this season, together with their drive and determination, is something graduate student Sirena Linton, who transferred following her senior year at the University of Arizona, saw from the beginning and is excited to see the team capitalize on once they hit the floor in Fort Worth. 

“I feel like coming to Arkansas, a big part of that was feeling just the drive and determination that not only the gymnasts had, but the coaches to get us here,” Linton said. “I just wanted to be a part of that. Just to see it come to life this year, it’s been truly magical.

“From the beginning of the season, we made a vision board as a team, and we wrote and had images of all of our goals that we revisited throughout the year. [After Regionals] we walked in and we looked at a vision board and we said, ‘We did it.’ And we keep saying, ‘We’re the team that did it. And so now what?’ We’re not done yet. And I think that was the most exciting thing to hear from all of the girls was, ‘We got here, and now let’s keep pushing. Let’s do more.’

Key for the Gymbacks in Fort Worth, Wieber said, is to do their normal gymnastics and not focus on one event over the other. Depth is also a factor and has been building for the Gymbacks all season. Look for big performances from Linton, Lauren Williams, Frankie Price, Kalyxta Gamiao, Maddie Jones, Cami Weaver and Leah Smith to play a huge role in Arkansas’ success.

“We’re trying not to build up any event in particular because on our best day, we’re really good on all four,” Wieber said. “We do start on beam, which I keep telling the team, we get to start on our best event. We’ve been the best on beam the last two meets. Really feeding that perspective of no matter what we start on or what we end on, it doesn’t matter. We just do our normal. That’s been the messaging. I think what tends to be the separator in postseason is vault, in my opinion. Whether you have that 10.0 start value advantage or you’re like us where you have half your lineup, 10.0 start value and half not, it’s just all about landings. I think that’s going to be extremely important for us is just to keep going with the consistent landings that we’ve had these last few meets. But I think it’s just everything. We just want to go and be our best when our best is required and continue to do what we’ve done this season.”

Here’s more of our conversation with head coach Jordyn Wieber and Sirena Linton as the Gymbacks get ready to take the floor in Fort Worth!

Jordyn, did you sense over the summer and going into preseason, that there was maybe something a little bit different about this team? What was the mentality over the summer getting them prepared and pacing them this year?

I think a lot of it stemmed from our conversation after last season. Obviously, not making it to Regionals wasn’t what we wanted, wasn’t what the team was happy with. The conversation we had with the team when we got back, really sticks out in my mind. A lot of it was, ‘Okay, where are the areas that you guys as a team clearly see that we need to improve, we need to work on for next season?’ One of the biggest things was confidence. They were very aware that confidence was something they knew they needed and they wanted and that they had in a few places, but we needed it more across the board. That and then also consistency. I think last year, we had these great, shining moments. They weren’t necessarily the most consistent team. What that turned into was a really difficult seeding at Regionals. They really saw the value of being consistent in the regular season and how that can position you better in your postseason run. They learned all those things. We talked about them, and there was just a commitment and a buy-in, I think, from the first day of the summer for the team to just improve upon their confidence, be more consistent, be more disciplined.

It’s just been this contagious environment that you really feel like when you walk our gym, every person on the team is bought into that culture. And it’s been really fun. I will say it’s been really fun for me this year – just everybody bought in and wanting the same things.

The team came out of the gates in January so strong, setting records left and right. And then I know mid-season, maybe they weren’t doing as well as everybody had hoped or thought. What do you say to them as a head coach in those moments where maybe they’re a little disappointed or a little down and you’re like, ‘We’ve got a lot more to go…’

Well, to be honest, my coaching style is I ask them for a lot of feedback. And so a lot of times as coaches, we can finish a meet that doesn’t go well and think we know all the answers. But until we know what is actually going on within the team, what their mindset is, what do they think were just the cracks in the foundation, then we don’t really know the full story. A lot of times, I think what happened this season was we started off really strong, like you said. Then we go to Alabama, we tie Alabama, we get a program record on the road. It was this, ‘Okay, we’re pretty good this season’ feeling. And then we went on the road to LSU in Florida, and we ended up counting a fall at both of those meets. When the team reflected on… I think the first meet, we were like, ‘Okay, that was just a fluke. I think maybe the first event, we got a little in our heads. Then when it happened again at Florida, they admitted that the pressure got a little big. We realized that we had so much potential and it was real.

Then we made it a little too big. We put a little too much pressure on ourselves, and we had to just reset and go, ‘Okay, let’s not make any moment too big or bigger than it is.’ That was our motto the whole season –  just be normal, do what you do in practice, don’t make it too big. We’ve been saying that all the way up until day two Regionals. We didn’t talk about tonight we’re going to try to make Nationals. It was, alright, another meet, another opportunity to do our thing, to be normal, to do what we train. A lot of those lessons were learned during the season. It was cool to see the team figure it out and us as coaches just guide them to figure it out rather than just telling them.

Was there a moment during the meet or during the day you sensed it was going to happen for this team – that they’d advance to Nationals?

A lot of people said we had a feeling throughout the day, and the girls were so giddy in the morning. We got them up, we had breakfast, and we had a little team stretch, and they were giddy. I was like, ‘Okay, guys, either we’re feeling really good or we’ve been together for five straight days and we’re all getting sick of each other or something.’ I didn’t know what it was, but the team was just really excited and really happy instead of being nervous and intense. So I was assured by that. And then I think during the meet, I didn’t really feel it until we were going from beam to floor. Once we hit beam, I thought, we can do this on floor. This is where we shine, usually the brightest. I’m sure the athletes would probably all say different things, but I just trusted the girls, the whole meet. They just had it. And there was no doubt in my mind that we were not capable of doing what we needed to do that day. So it was just a good feeling the whole day, and I just had tons of fun.

And the Lauren Williams hug after floor – she just jumped and you caught her – which was amazing! And you still had Frankie still to go. But now you’re realizing that it’s real. What were all those emotions in that moment when you finally knew you were going to advance?

I did get a little emotional just because it’s just been an incredible journey this year. And it really felt like so many… It feels like so many puzzle pieces came together this season. Just the buy-in and just… I can look at any single student athlete on my team and just give you 10 reasons why I’m just so proud of everything they’ve put into this year, whether they’re competing or not. Even someone, a senior like Emma Kelly, who hasn’t necessarily made the lineups a ton this year, she has been a huge part of our success this year, too. So I can say that about every single athlete, and that’s a really good feeling to have as a coach. I mean, that makes Nationals even more special. It was a hard session. Minnesota is a great team. Kentucky is a fantastic team. They have been all season. LSU, obviously. It was great. I respected them so much and they just did a fantastic job. It  was going to be a tough session either way. Another team didn’t have to mess up for us to make it. We earned it, and that just felt really good.

So Sirena, I want to know when you were making the decision to transfer for your graduate year, could you have ever pictured that all of a sudden now you’re going to National Semifinals, you’re going to Fort Worth. How do you feel?

To be honest, if I said no, I’d be lying to you. I feel like coming to Arkansas, a big part of that was feeling just the drive and determination that not only the gymnast had, but the coaches to get us here. I just wanted to be a part of that. Just to see it come to life this year, it’s been truly magical.

Did you feel that from the first moment you stepped foot on campus?

Absolutely. I mean, everybody had the goal. I think just having everybody on the same page and staying consistent throughout the year, the story wrote itself.

I love hearing that because I know from the get-go, this team was setting records, and Arkansas was on everyone’s radar to have an incredible season. And then in the middle of season, you maybe weren’t doing quite as well as you all wanted to do. What do you think it was that lit that fire, relit that fire, for postseason?

I think that we always had that fire lit in the middle of season. I think It’s unrealistic to have a perfect season, and it’s unrealistic to expect to just stay perfect. It’s a young team. And so when we’re breaking records, I know some of the girls were saying the pressure that they felt was only put on by ourselves. I think moving forward from that little bit of adversity we faced actually made us a lot stronger and taught us what tools we need to use and what tools we still needed to develop to be able to handle pressure situations, to be able to go up and do us and do our normal. And ultimately, in the postseason, we just stuck with that and stuck with what we learned, and it all played out the way it did.

Did you all feel as confident as ever going into Regionals? It felt like you just knew… 

We just knew and we felt it in our hearts. From the training before to stepping on the bus to just our pre-me pep talks, it was just something that we felt in our hearts. When Jordyn said, ‘You want it?’ We all said yes, and we went out and did just that.

I think just the energy that we had going in was that we really don’t have anything to lose. And so why not go out and just have no regrets? And the first two rotations, it was very close between a lot of, I would say, all four of the teams. I know for me, being one of the people in the lineup on beam, you can’t focus on that. You can’t focus on anybody else but ourselves. And that’s what we stuck through the whole meet, really. I think after just feeling the fire of my teammates before me and adding to that, I think we all knew and we all felt it.

What were you saying to yourself before that beam performance?

Oh, man, a lot of things! I think ultimately, it’s the unknown of, is this going to be my last routine or not? I think just a whole week going up into this Regional, not thinking about anything as bigger than it needs to be. And I remember looking at Jordyn and I was like, ‘well, there’s no pressure.’ We did what we needed to do. And going up here, just another one of that and doing my normal and just soaking it all in and enjoying it, it was a lot of fun.

I was going to ask you about that because I know there’s the new rule this year that you have to hold the landing for two seconds to show control. But, I felt like you held it for just a couple more seconds just to soak it in and take in that moment…

I think just in the last couple of routines in general in this postseason, definitely just soaking everything in. You never know really what’s going to be your last. I think just enjoying that and enjoying these last few routines, it’s been really big for me.

And watching your teammates in that fourth rotation just on fire, on floor, what was it like just watching it all unfold and happen?

I mean, we just had the fire rolling going into the fourth rotation, and we all trust our floor team so much. They’re so incredibly strong. So we knew that if they just did their normal, which they did, and above and beyond that, it was just so fun to see everybody’s face just with so much pure joy. I think that’s been a big word this whole year – just having that joy. And seeing it all come together and Frankie finish us off, it was unreal, truly.

Any key messages beyond that or things that you’re all thinking about to obviously keep that fire lit in Fort Worth, but also stay in the moment and calm, if it’s possible to stay calm in that setting?

It’s interesting because I remember when we were having our team meeting and having gone to a National Championship as an individual, I told everybody I remember going in feeling this almost imposter syndrome of, ‘do I belong here? Am I meant to be here?’ And seeing all these big teams and big names and then reminding myself of the journey that I took to earn it and telling the girls not to make any moment too big. We’ve earned it. We’ve earned the right to be there. And so during our performance and on the floor, just soak it all in and have fun because that’s what is most important while we’re there.

How has the sport itself, and then being part of this Arkansas program, how has that empowered you? How has that changed your life? How has that made you feel as a student athlete to be part of something like this?

It makes me very, very emotional to be on this team. I’m just so incredibly grateful for the girls and for the coaches for giving me the opportunity to come here and leave an impact on this team and help bring this team to the farthest that we can go. The life lessons that I’ve learned in this short year that I’ve been here, I wish that I could be here longer. I share all these moments with the girls and with the coaches. They’ve helped me grow into the person I am.

For our complete 2024 NCAA Championships Preview, Click Here!


From 36 to 8, Fort Worth promises an NCAA Women’s Championship to remember! Will 6-time (2014, 2016, 2017, 2019, 2022, 2023) National and defending champion Oklahoma capture their seventh crown? Will LSU finally take the championship title they’ve been chasing? Can Cal capitalize on a record-breaking season? It’s about to be Go-Time in Fort Worth and right now, it’s anyone’s game.

Here’s how to watch it all play out, along with our look at the field of eight including quick takes from commentators Aly Raisman and John Roethlisberger, who spoke with the media on Monday.


Thursday, April 18th

  • NCAA Championships Semifinal I | LSU, Cal, Arkansas, Stanford | 4:30 p.m. ET | ESPN2
  • NCAA Championships Semifinal II | Oklahoma, Florida, Utah, Alabama | 9:00 p.m. ET | ESPN2

Saturday, April 20th

  • NCAA Championships Finals | 4 p.m. ET | ABC

Both Semifinal competitions are scheduled to be televised on ESPN2 with John Roethlisberger, Aly Raisman and Taylor Davis on the call. ABC will broadcast the final “Four on the Floor” on Saturday. Each apparatus will have its own individual stream with commentary. Samantha Peszek and Bridget Sloan will commentate the vault and beam streams, and Anastasia Webb and Kennedy Baker will commentate on bars and floor.

Photos courtesy of Arkansas Gymnastics

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