FAYETTEVILLE – Arkansas’ 12th-ranked gymnastics team looks to finish either first or second in the Saturday’s NCAA North Central Regional in Denver to advance to the NCAA Championship in two weeks in Cleveland.
Arkansas is one of six teams competing in the regional at the University of Denver. The top two finishers from each of the six regionals advance to the NCAA Championship in Cleveland April 15-17.
The Razorbacks are in an NCAA Regional for the eighth straight season. They’ve advanced to the post-season every year the program has existed under co-head coaches Mark and René Cook with the exception of the first season in 2003. Arkansas has earned a spot in the NCAA Championship four times, all in the last five years, including each of the last three seasons.
"We’re excited to go back to an NCAA Regional," Mark Cook says. "We’ve prepared and we’re going to go there and do the best job we can. This is in an important meet for us, but this is not the end point for us. We need to be ready to go to the next step."
Arkansas is the second-seeded team in Denver. No. 1 Florida is first, No. 13 Boise State is third, No. 19 Denver is fourth, No. 20 Arizona is fifth and No. 27 Brigham Young is sixth.
"It’s a strong field," Cook says. "Boise State is right on our tail in the rankings. These are all good, solid programs. We have to do our job. There is no guarantee with anything. It’s going to be fun competition and everyone is going to give it their best."
Arkansas has never faced Boise State, but the Razorbacks are familiar with the other teams.
The Razorbacks handed No. 1 Florida its only dual meet loss of the year, beating the top-ranked Gators in Fayetteville on Feb. 25, 196.70-196.10. Arkansas was just in Denver on March 12, and lost to the then-No. 18 Pioneers, 195.725-195.70. Arkansas also fell to then-No. 28 BYU on Feb. 18 in Barnhill Arena, 195.10-195.025. The Razorbacks went 2-0 against Arizona last season, beating the Wildcats at home in the season-opener and again in the NCAA West Regional at UCLA to advance to the national championship.
As for series records, Arkansas is 4-2 all-time against Arizona, 2-1 against BYU, 0-4 against Denver and 2-24 against Florida.
In the individual events, Arkansas ranks No. 9 on vault, No. 22 on bars, No. 13 on beam and No. 11 on floor.
Individually, junior All-American Jaime Pisani is No. 3 in the nation on floor, No. 5 in the all-around and No. 16 on vault. Freshman Katherine Grable is No. 16 in the all-around, tied for No. 22 on floor and tied for No. 32 on beam. Sophomore Jordan Salsberg is No. 37 in the all-around.
Arkansas goes into the post-season off its best Southeastern Conference Championship performance ever. In Birmingham on March 19, the Razorbacks scored a school SEC meet record 195.800 and finished fourth. Pisani earned second-team All-SEC honors on vault and Grable was second-team in the all-around.
"That competition is so difficult," Cook says. "It’s on podium and it’s spacious. It’s stressful and against very strong teams. We finally broke through and got to that fourth spot. We were hoping to get third, and we were close after two events. That’s our goal, to keep moving up and eventually win the meet. We did a good job. We kept it together and were focused."
The lineup for the SEC meet, on vault, included sophomore Amanda Siebert, Salsberg, sophomore Amy Borsellino, Grable, Pisani and senior All-American Michelle Stout.
On bars, Salsberg was followed by Grable, junior Genny Salvatore, Pisani, Stout and junior Mariah Howdeshell.
On beam, freshman Scarlett Williams led off, followed by Pisani, Salsberg, freshman Shelby Salmon, Grable and senior Stacy Bartlett.
On floor, Siebert went ahead of Salsberg, Borsellino, sophomore Kelci Lewis, Grable and Pisani.
Arkansas has competed in the North Central Regional once, in Minneapolis in 2008. Arkansas finished second behind No. 2 Utah, but ahead of No. 28 Minnesota, No. 14 Arizona, No. 27 Southern Utah and No. 23 Iowa to earn a spot in the NCAA Championship.
Last year, Arkansas finished second in the NCAA West Regional at UCLA, behind eventual national champion UCLA, and advanced to the NCAA Championship. The Razorbacks beat No. 10 Missouri in the NCAA Session II semifinal and finished 11th in the nation for their sixth straight national top 15 finish.
Here are Arkansas’ all-time NCAA Regional finishes:2004, fourth, NCAA South Central Region, Tucson, Ariz.2005, fourth, NCAA East Regional, Durham, N.H.2006, second, NCAA South Central Region, Fayetteville, Ark.2007, third, NCAA Northeast Region, Ann Arbor, Mich.2008, second, NCAA North Central Region, Minneapolis, Minn.2009, first, NCAA South Central Region, Fayetteville, Ark.2010, second, NCAA West Region, Los Angeles, Calif.