FAYETTEVILLE – Co-head coaches Mark and René Cook have built the Razorback program into a consistent national power and 2011 is business as usual.
In eight years of existence, the Razorbacks have earned a spot in an NCAA Regional the last seven years; advanced to the NCAA Championship four times, including the last three years; ended the season ranked among the nation’s top 15 five consecutive years; won an NCAA Regional and advanced to the NCAA Super Six; and ranked among the top 15 in the country in attendance average every year, all while producing 55 selections to the National Association for Collegiate Gymnastics Coaches for Women Academic Team.
Individually, Arkansas has produced 21 all-America selections, 11 NCAA individual event finalists, five all-Southeastern Conference selections, eight SEC Gymnast of the Week honorees, two Coach of the Year award winners and 62 SEC Academic Honor Roll recipients.
The 2010 season equalled that success. Arkansas ended the year No. 11 in the nation, finished second in the NCAA West Regional at UCLA, produced seven all-America selections and five NCAA individual event finalists, and recorded wins over eight teams ranked in the top 25.
A core group of seniors is gone from that team – Amy DeFilippo, Sarah Nagashima and Casey Jo Magee – who made the Razorbacks a regular participant in the NCAA Championship. Over their consistent careers, they combined for nine All-America honors and four appearances in the NCAA individual event finals. However, the next wave is in place and they have veteran leadership to lead the way. The 2011 Razorbacks are led by a pair of all-Americans – junior Jaime Pisani and senior Michelle Stout. Pisani, along with Magee, led the team last year. Stout missed last season with an injury, but was key to the team reaching the Super Six in 2009 with a fourth place all-around finish.
Other returnees include senior Stacy Bartlett, juniors Mariah Howdeshell and Genny Salvatore; and sophomores Natalie Bohonsky, Amy Borsellino, Kelci Lewis and Amanda Siebert. The returnees have competed in a NCAA Regional and the NCAA Championship every year of their Razorback careers. They have ended the year ranked in the top 15 every year and recorded wins over at least eight teams ranked in the top 25 each season.
The newcomers are freshmen Katherine Grable, Shelby Salmon, Scarlett Williams and Bailee Zumwalde, and sophomore transfer Jordan Salsberg. In May, Grable won the all-around title at the J.O. Level 10 National Championship in Dallas. She was third on vault, second on bars, third on beam and tied for ninth on floor. In the same meet, Zumwalde finished second in the all-around. She tied for 12th on vault, tied for third on bars, tied for fifth on beam and tied for second on floor. Zumwalde was fourth in the all-around in 2008 and ninth in 2009. Salmon was the USAG Region V all-around champion, and at the J.O. Level 10 National Championship, she finished fifth on bars and tied for 14th on beam. Williams tied for ninth in the all-around at the J.O. Level 10 National Championship, giving the Razorbacks the first, second and ninth-place finishers in the country.
Salsberg, a transfer from Southeast Missouri State University, is a former Junior Olympic national champion on beam. In her freshman year at SEMO, she won 13 individual event titles, earned first-team All-Midwest Independent Conference honors, and was named SEMO’s Freshman of the Year.
VAULTVault could be a big event for the Razorbacks this year. Last year, Arkansas recorded three of the top 10 scores in program history and ranked No. 11 in the country. Pisani was a first-team all-American and tied for 12th in the nation. In 2009, Stout was a first-team all-American and finished fifth in the country, and Pisani was a second-team all-American.
"Our vault team is very strong this year," Mark Cook says. "Having Michelle back is huge. We have seven or eight kids who all do 10.0 vaults and they all do them well. We have the potential to challenge the school record if we hit."
Returning contributors will be the core of the vault line-up. Pisani matched the second-best score in school history of 9.95 and won the event six times. Stout, a second-team All-SEC honoree, owns the top two scores in program history of 9.975 and 9.95. She has 13 career vault titles with eight in 2009, including wins at the NCAA Championship Session II semifinal and the NCAA South Central Region meet. Howdeshell tied her career best of 9.85 against No. 12 Kentucky last year and her scores counted for the team 10 times. Lewis posted a 9.85 four times, including at the NCAA West Regional, and scored for the team in all 14 meets.
"Having two all-Americans (Stout and Pisani) is huge, plus we have the Junior Olympic national champion in Katherine Grable," Renè Cook says. "We still have Amanda Siebert and Kelci, who were mainstays in the lineup last year and they should be better."
Salsberg won five vault titles last year at SEMO with highs of 9.825. Siebert also had highs of 9.825 four times, including at the NCAA Championship Session II semifinal. Her scores counted for the team seven times. Grable won Wisconsin state and Region IV titles in 2010, and was third in the nation with a 9.675. Williams won the Louisiana state title, was sixth in Region VIII and ninth in the nation with a 9.525.
BARSArkansas set the school record on bars at last year’s NCAA West Regional (49.40), posted four of the all-time top 10 scores and ranked No. 13 in the nation. The top returnee is Stout from 2009. She was a first-team All-American and tied for seventh in the nation. She won three individual titles with a high of 9.90.
Pisani was also a second-team All-American that season. Pisani had highs of 9.875 in 2010, and won the event against No. 12 Kentucky and tied for sixth in the NCAA West Regional. She had five top-three finishes. Howdeshell had highs of 9.85 in tying for eighth at the NCAA West Regional. She had three top four finishes with her score counting eight times.
"We lost some great bars workers, but we were fortunate to pick up some good freshmen who have competed at a high level," Mark Cook says. "Michelle, an all-American, is back and should be helpful in securing a strong score. Jaime and Mariah have both increased their difficulty level."
Bohonsky joined the team mid-year last season and was in the bar lineup for the last six meets. She had a high of 9.80 in the NCAA Championship Session II semifinal.
"Jordan Salsberg is really doing well in training," Mark Cook says. "Among the freshmen, Shelby Salmon has three release tricks in her routine, and Katherine Grable and Bailee Zumwalde are both doing well. Genny is back from surgery and we hope to get her out there. We have eight or nine girls who can all score a 9.8-plus."
"We probably have the most depth since we’ve been here," Renè Cook says.
Accolades of the newcomers include Salsberg’s five event titles last year at SEMO with a high of 9.85, Grable’s second-place finish at the J.O. National Championship in May and Salmon placing fifth at the J.O. National Championship.
BEAMThe Razorbacks ranked No. 9 in the nation in 2010, but will look to the newcomers to continue that success. "We’ll see a lot of new faces," Renè Cook says. "Jaime and Stacy are still in there. Katherine is probably one of the best we will have ever had in the program. Jordan is a former national champion and she’s good under pressure. Shelby will contribute and Scarlett is solid and dynamic. Mariah competed for a whole year and is gaining confidence. Bailee has a nice routine. Amanda is training and doing well, and could add important depth. We really have eight or nine strong, viable beam workers. We’re learning how to compete week in and week out. All are very accomplished."
Among the returnees, Pisani had a career-high matching 9.85 with five top four finishes. She placed 11th at the NCAA West Regional with a 9.775. Bartlett recorded a high of 9.875 with her score counting for the team 11 times. She had three top five finishes. Howdeshell had a high of 9.80 with her score counting six times.
The newcomers are an accomplished group of beam workers. Salsberg, a former balance beam national champion, won one beam title last year at SEMO and had a high of 9.75. Grable won the Wisconsin state title, finished second in Region IV and third in the national championship. Salmon won the Indiana state title, was 13th in Region V and 14th in the nation. Williams won the Louisiana state title, finished second in Region VIII and 17th in the country. Zumwalde was fourth in the state of Minnesota, fifth in Region IV and fifth in the nation.
FLOORLast year, Arkansas ranked 12th in the country and Pisani, a first-team All-American, finished 10th in the nation. Two top 10 finishers in last year’s J.O. Nationals – Zumwalde, who was second; and Grable, who was ninth – are expected to be in the lineup.
The top returnee, Pisani tied the school record of 9.95 (at No. 22 Minnesota) and won nine titles, including in the NCAA Championship Session II semifinal with a 9.925. Her score counted for the team all 14 meets. Stout won three titles in 2009 with career-high marks of 9.90.
"We’ve improved our depth," Renè Cook says. "Jaime is a returning All-American. Katherine is awesome. Kelci is back and is more confident. Amanda has upgraded her tumbling and did a good job as a freshman. Bailee is fun to watch and will be a crowd-pleaser. Scarlett, Stacy, Mariah and Natalie are all training consistently. We’ve improved the quality of our routines from top to bottom."
The team will rely on veteran experience. Bartlett recorded a career-high 9.80 at No. 22 Minnesota with her score counting for the team eight times. Lewis’ score counted for the team all 14 meets with highs of 9.875. She had five top four finishes. Siebert competed in 11 meets with her score counting six times. She had a high of 9.80 as the last competitor to help Arkansas top Auburn and set a school record with an overall team score of 197.025.
The group of newcomers will have an impact. Salsberg had a high of 9.80 at Southeast Missouri last season. Grable was second in the state of Wisconsin, third in Region IV and ninth at the national championship. Williams was first in the state of Louisiana and fifth in Region VIII. Zumwalde was third in the Minnesota state meet, second in Region IV and second in the nation.
Combining experience with youth is the key for 2011. The Cooks say their overall depth is better than ever. The roster includes five juniors and seniors, led by all-Americans Stout and Pisani, who have made Arkansas a regular in the NCAA Championship. Their leadership and experience, combined with the talented newcomers, could position the Razorbacks for even more postseason success.