FAYETTEVILLE – Arkansas’ gymnastics team puts its highest ranking ever on the line on Friday in front of the former student-athletes who built the program when the Razorbacks face No. 25 LSU at 7 p.m. in Barnhill Arena.
Due to construction around Barnhill Arena, parking is available in the following areas – Lot 44, immediately north of the Broyles Athletic Center, and the Stadium Drive parking garage. Also as a reminder, will call is at the south side entrance of Barnhill.
Friday’s meet is a celebration of the 10-year anniversary of the program. Members of the inaugural team from 2003 will be introduced throughout the meet, and the 2003 team and other former Razorbacks returning for an alumni weekend will be recognized at the conclusion of the competition.
"The 10 years went by fast," co-head coach Mark Cook says. "It’s nice to have everyone coming back. They set the base and the foundation for our program, and to have our current team meet them is exciting. I think they are all excited about coming back."
Members from the 2003 team expected back are Tiffany Berry Stintson, Whitney Cashwell, Kim Harris, Katie Hardman Mittag, Melissa Leigh, Audra Loveless Bull, Hannah McLeod Renno, Dana McQuillin and former athletic trainer Jen Jallo.
Other former Razorbacks expected are Rachel Barnett Plunkett, Stacy Bartlett, Natalie Bohonsky, Jamie Burnette, Samantha Cortez, Allison Daniels, Alexandra LaChance, Mallory Machnik, Ashly McPherson, Kelley Owen, Michelle Stout, Alyssa Strodel and Kathy Thompson Wilson along with former staff members Ashley Binns, Jillian Coates, Elizabeth Jillson Sullivan and Bethany Shivers Vershiv.
"They are all so excited to be back," co-head coach Rene Cook says. "Plus, the team is doing so well. They are excited about that, too."
The Razorbacks are 5-0 overall and 1-0 in the Southeastern Conference. All five wins for the co-defending SEC regular-season champions are over teams ranked in the top 25 – No. 12 LSU, No. 17 Auburn, No. 19 Arizona, No. 23 Kentucky and No. 25 Iowa. Arkansas began the year No. 11 in the preseason rankings, but has jumped to No. 3, matching the highest in program history.
"The girls know we are good, but they know we can get better," René says. "Every little bit counts. To go from that 9.85 to a 9.90 gets harder and they are working hard."
The Razorbacks scored a 196.45 to win the Cancun Classic the opening week of the year and beat Kentucky with a 196.65 last week.
"That shows that hard work and training pay off," Mark says. "We want them to train and compete the same, and they’ve done a great job of transferring that into the meets. It’s early. The season is a long race, not a sprint. The girls are saying we can make improvements. We’re still shooting for the 197 mark. We have to focus on getting better."
The 196.65 last week is the 10th-best score in school history. The school record is a 197.025 against No. 16 Auburn in 2010.
"I’m impressed with how well they are competing," René says. "It’s one thing to do it in practice, but another to do it in meets."
LSU beat Auburn last week and is coming off a 195.025.
"It’s going to be tough competition," Mark says. "They will come to play and we’ll have to be on our toes."
"LSU has a great program," René says. "They will be ready to go. They have great athletes. We have to do our jobs."
Arkansas’ lineup last week included junior All-American Amy Borsellino, junior All-American Kelci Lewis, junior Jordan Salsberg, sophomore Scarlett Williams, senior All-American Jaime Pisani and sophomore All-American Katherine Grable on vault. On bars, Salsberg led off, followed by freshman Stephani Canizaro, Grable, Pisani, sophomore Shelby Salmon and senior Mariah Howdeshell. The order on beam was Salsberg, Salmon, Williams, Borsellino, Pisani and Grable. Sophomore Bailee Zumwalde started on floor, followed by Borsellino, Salsberg, Lewis, Grable and Pisani.
Individually, Pisani is No. 2 in the nation on floor, Howdeshell is No. 3 on bars, Grable No. 5 on beam, Pisani No. 7 on vault, Grable No. 10 in the all-around and Pisani No. 10 on bars.
In the events, Arkansas is No. 6 on vault, tied for No. 3 on bars, tied for No. 9 on beam and No. 6 on floor.