FAYETTEVILLE – The No. 11 University of Arkansas gymnastics team is set to start the 2014 season and a run for the NCAA Championships for the eighth time in program history. In the third of a four-part preview series, Arkansas returns four gymnasts from the beam lineup in 2013, adds two freshmen and welcomes back a gymnast from an injury to the 2014 rotation.
The Razorbacks return senior All-American Katherine Grable, senior Shelby Salmon and sophomores Sydnie Dillard and Erin Freier from the squad’s 2013 campaign. The 2013 lineup was featured in the top 25 all season long and was ranked as high as No. 8 at the beginning of the season.
Returning to the lineup this season is senior Scarlett Williams and the Razorbacks will welcome the addition of freshmen Samantha Nelson and Amanda Wellick.
“I am really excited about our beam lineup this year,” co-head coach René Lyst said. “The beam team is strong and has a lot of depth. We have eight or nine strong and very competitive routines. The lineup will depend on who is the most consistent, who has the most difficulty and who has the most artistry. We have a lot of returners this year to the lineup, Shelby, Erin, Katherine, Scarlett and Sydnie that have all been in the lineup before and have a lot of experience for us. I feel pretty solid with our core group. Our freshmen this year are really strong competitors for this event. They all have very different skills, which is very exciting. Everyone’s routines are unique and have really good difficulty from their first skill to their last skill. In addition, we have a lot of composure. I think the beam is going to be one of the events that really makes our team stand out this year and I look forward to see that come to fruition.”
The 2013 beam squad collected six event titles throughout the season and earned a season-high rotation score of 49.300 in the NCAA Corvallis Regional, which gave the Razorbacks a program high score of 196.950 at an NCAA Regional. Grable finished with three titles on the season while Dillard picked up two more and Freier added the sixth.
“I think our beam lineup will be a lot stronger this year,” senior Grable said. “We have struggled before in the past because it is such a mental event. I know personally, I have been working really hard about staying focused and I know everyone else has also been working on being more focused and mentally prepared for this year. We have had many tough beam assignments in training this year and our whole lineup has improved so far though training and I think that our training has really prepared us for this season.”
The Razorbacks will return five gymnasts that have career bests of 9.85 or better including the school record holder in Grable with a 9.95 and Freier returns a best score of 9.90. Dillard who was named to the Southeastern Conference All-Freshman team for her performance during the SEC Championship Meet returns a 9.875. Salmon and Williams will each return a 9.85 for their personal bests.
“We have done a lot of team building exercises on the beam so far,” senior Salmon said. “We have a lot more depth this season which I think will really help us this season and I think our depth is what will set us apart from other teams and help us really stand out this year.”
The Razorbacks begin the season on Friday, Jan. 10, hosting Western Michigan and Bridgeport in Barnhill Arena. The season opener is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.
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