FAYETTEVILLE – Arkansas finished tied for ninth at the NCAA Gymnastics Championship this year and four different Razorbacks earned All-America honors, but there were plenty of other highlights in 2011.
Arkansas earned a spot in an NCAA Regional for the eighth straight season, every year the program has existed since the first, and advanced to the NCAA Championship for the fifth time in six years.
The five appearances in the championship already rank 18th in the nation and the five over the nine-year history of the program, since 2003, rank 12th in the country.
Arkansas tied for fourth in the NCAA Session I Semifinal, which is its second-best performance in the championship. The 2009 team finished second, earned a spot in the Super Six and finished fifth in the country.
The tie for ninth in the country is Arkansas’ second-best ever, the third top 10 finish and the seventh consecutive finish in the top 15. The 2008 team finished 10th and the 2009 team placed fifth.
"The year we had makes you proud," co-head coach Mark Cook says. "It means our system is working and the kids are buying into your program. A lot of them were new this year. We didn’t know if they could weather the process, but they did."
Junior Jaime Pisani led a group of four Razorbacks to earn All-America honors. Pisani is an All-American for the third year and earned three honors for the third time. She is a first-teamer on floor, and a second-teamer in the all-around and on beam.
Her nine All-America honors are now a school record.
Katherine Grable earned first-team honors on floor and second-team honors on vault, and became the first Razorback freshman to make the first team.
Sophomore Amy Borsellino earned first-team honors on vault and sophomore Kelci Lewis second-team honors on floor.
Other highlights include winning the NCAA North Central Regional for its second NCAA regional title in three years, advancing to the NCAA Championship for the fourth straight season, recording 11 wins over top 25 ranked opponents, tying for the Southeastern Conference regular-season championship at 5-1, setting school records with seven dual-meet wins and five SEC wins, and setting school records with four road wins and three SEC road wins.
"We lost three outstanding seniors off last year’s team," Cook says. "Just to qualify for the NCAA Championship was a real challenge, but that experience was valuable. We don’t like to use that term (rebuilding) too much, but it was a fact."
In the process, Arkansas beat No. 1 Florida twice, topping the Gators in Fayetteville to give them their first loss of the season and again in Denver to win the North Central Regional; beat No. 4 Georgia for its first win ever over UGA and later tied the Gym Dogs in the Session I Semifinal to finish tied for ninth in the nation; beat LSU for the first time ever in Baton Rouge; and set program highs by scoring a 195.800 in the SEC Championship and finishing fourth.
Individually, Pisani was twice named the SEC Gymnast of the Week and she became Arkansas’ first South Central Regional Gymnast of the Year. Pisani and Grable earned All-SEC honors and senior Michelle Stout was named the SEC Co-Scholar-Athlete of the Year.
Stout, who was a redshirt senior, and senior Stacy Bartlett became the first Razorbacks to participate in the NCAA Championship four times in their careers.
Arkansas also had three of the top all-arounders in the nation with Pisani finishing ranked No. 5, Grable No. 16 and sophomore Jordan Salsberg No. 38.
Pisani, Grable and Borsellino earned spots in the NCAA Individual Event Finals, tying the school record for the most participants, which also ranked eighth in the nation this year.
Pisani tied for fifth on floor, Grable tied for ninth on floor and Borsellino placed 15th in the country on vault.
Pisani led the team with 28 individual event wins, including nine all-around, four on vault, three on bars, one on beam and 11 on floor. Grable was second with nine wins, including two all-around, two on vault, four on beam and one on floor. Stout had two wins on bars, Salsberg had two on beam, junior Genny Salvatore had one on bars and junior Mariah Howdeshell had one on bars.