FAYETTEVILLE - Arkansas' gymnastics team struggled with injuries the last month of the season, but responded with one of its best meets of the season in Saturday's NCAA Regional to earn its fifth consecutive trip to the NCAA Championship.
The Razorbacks are one of 12 teams competing in the two semifinal sessions on April 20 in Duluth, Ga., with the top three teams from those sessions moving to the Super Six on April 21.
"It's really exciting to see the girls not only get back to the national championship, but how they performed that night was one of those moments you want them to do well and they were in a zone," co-head coach Mark Cook says. "They were rocking and you just get out of their way and let them do their thing."
Arkansas scored a 196.825, which is its second-best score of the year behind only the school-record 197.225 against LSU on Jan. 20. Saturday's score is a school record for a regional and the seventh-best in school history.
The Razorbacks were solid across the board with a 49.20 on vault, 49.225 on bars, 49.175 on beam and 49.225 on floor. The beam score is the second-best of the year and the school's second-best in nine regional appearances. The floor score ties for second-best in a regional, and vault and bars are third-best for a regional.
In the three previous meets, Arkansas scored a 195.125 at West Virginia, a 195.45 at Missouri and a 194.175 at the SEC Championship.
"After the last three weeks of the season, I don't think we ever doubted our ability to do what we did at the regional, but there was a lot of gossip out there," co-head coach René Cook says. "We felt all along that we would be fine, but still, you have to do the job when the day comes. From the first routine to the last, we were aggressive and energetic, and the fans were great. The whole night was amazing."
Individually, senior All-American Jaime Pisani, the Southeastern Conference Gymnast of the Year, won all-around (39.625) and beam (9.925) titles. Her scores are school records for a regional. Her vault score (9.90) ties the school record while her floor (9.925) is second and bars (9.875) ties for sixth.
Junior All-American Amy Borsellino was sixth in the all-around (39.30), sixth on vault (9.875) and tied for third on floor (9.90). Sophomore All-American Katherine Grable, who missed the three previous meets with an ankle injury, and sophomore Shelby Salmon tied for third on bars (9.85) while senior Mariah Howdeshell and freshman Stephani Canizaro tied for eighth (9.825). Grable tied for second on beam (9.90) while Salmon and freshman Sammy Kolbas tied for 10th (9.80).
"Amy did a fantastic job on all four events," Mark says. "Shelby had two of the best routines she's done all season. Bailee (Zumwalde) had a good vault (9.80) and got us started off on floor with a 9.825. It was a great effort by everyone."
"Scarlett (Williams, 9.825 on vault, 9.75 on beam) did a great job," René says. "Shelby was phenomenal and definitely performed up to her potential. Sammy hit that beam routine and was a shining moment, and Stephani stepped up her game. It was nice to see the freshmen, who struggled the last few weeks, have those moments in a great competition."
In addition to Grable's return, junior All-American Kelci Lewis was also back in the lineup after missing all or most of the three previous meets with an ankle injury, and she had a 9.80 vault and a 9.775 floor.
"Having Kat and Kelci back gave the team more calmness," René says. "It was uplifting."
"Katherine exceeded expectations," Mark says. "She's a special athlete. As a coach, I stood back in awe. She and Kelci came back in the lineup and performed their routines really well and contributed tremendously to the success of the night."