FAYETTEVILLE – Arkansas makes its fourth straight appearance in the NCAA Gymnastics Championship this week when the No. 12 Razorbacks compete in Friday’s Session I Semifinal at 11 a.m. in Cleveland’s Wolstein Center.
The Session II semifinal is Friday at 5 p.m. The top two teams from six regionals advanced to the championship round, and the top three finishers in each semifinal move on to Saturday’s 3 p.m. Super Six. The NCAA Individual Event Finals are Sunday at noon.
The Razorbacks are in the NCAA Championship for the fourth straight time and the fifth time in six years. Arkansas earned a spot in an NCAA Regional for the eighth straight season.
Arkansas is one of just seven teams appearing in the NCAA Championship for a fourth straight season and its five overall appearances already tie for 18th-most in the country. Over the nine-year period since Arkansas’ program began in 2003, the five appearances rank 12th in the nation.
Arkansas guaranteed its spot in this year’s championship round by winning the North Central Regional in Denver on April 2. The second-seeded Razorbacks knocked off No. 1 Florida for the second time this year to win the title, and also topped No. 13 Boise State, No. 19 Denver, No. 20 Arizona and No. 27 Brigham Young.
"That was one of the most stressful but one of the most enjoyable meets we’ve had," co-head coach Mark Cook says. "It was really neck-and-neck through the entire competition. It was also very rewarding to see our girls compete tough and compete to win. We were in the zone."
"There were so many good teams and anyone could have made it," co-head coach René Cook says. "We kept our nose to the grindstone and focused on one routine at a time with a lot of energy. To say you are the regional champion is something special."
The pairings for the semifinal sessions are based on each team’s national qualifying score (NQS), which is calculated by adding the regional qualifying score (RQS) to the score from the regional.
Arkansas won the North Central Regional with a 196.55, the second-highest team score in school history for a regional. The Razorbacks started on beam and had a 48.90, followed by a 49.30 on floor, and a 49.175 on both vault and bars. The 49.30 on floor is a school record for a regional.
The Session I Semifinal also includes No. 5 Oklahoma, No. 6 and defending national champion UCLA, No. 8 Georgia, No. 9 Michigan and No. 14 Illinois.
"Our session is tough, but if we do our job, we can put some pressure on people and make opportunities for ourselves," René Cook says. "We’re trying to finish in the top three and get to the Super Six."
The Session II Semifinal includes No. 1 Florida, No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Oregon State, No. 7 Utah, No. 10 Nebraska and No. 24 Kent State.
"It’s a hard session, but we feel confident if we do our job, we’ll have a chance to advance to the Super Six," Mark Cook says.
The Razorbacks are led by a trio of all-arounders, including junior Jaime Pisani, who was earlier named the National Association for Collegiate Gymnastics Coaches for Women South Central Regional Gymnast of the Year. The Ringwood, N.J., native leads the team with 27 individual event titles this year, including the floor title at the regional when she matched her own school record of 9.95.
Pisani is ranked No. 3 in the nation on floor, No. 5 in the all-around and is tied for No. 16 on vault. In the region, she is No. 1 in the all-around, No. 1 on floor, tied for No. 3 on vault, No. 11 on bars and tied for No. 11 on beam.
Freshman Katherine Grable finished second in the all-around at the regional and is ranked No. 16 in the country. Sophomore Jordan Salsberg finished sixth in the all-around at the regional and is ranked No. 37.
Arkansas’ rotation for the Session I Semifinal is vault, bye, bars, beam, bye and floor.
"We start on vault and that’s the rotation I like," Mark Cook says. "That’s the Olympic order and that’s what we did for half our season at home meets."
"The girls are excited about that rotation and that’s all that matters," René Cook says. "After starting on beam (at the regional), which was hard, they have confidence that we’re going to be good no matter where we start."
Arkansas’ lineup for the regional included sophomore Amanda Siebert, Salsberg, sophomore Amy Borsellino, Grable, Pisani and senior All-American Michelle Stout on vault.
On bars, Salsberg was first, followed by junior Genny Salvatore, Grable, Pisani, Stout and junior Mariah Howdeshell.
Freshman Scarlett Williams led off on beam, followed by Pisani, Salsberg, freshman Shelby Salmon, Grable and senior Stacy Bartlett.
On floor, freshman Bailee Zumwalde was followed by Salsberg, Borsellino, sophomore Kelci Lewis, Grable and Pisani.
Arkansas advanced to the Super Six in 2009 and finished fifth in the nation. The Razorbacks have finished the year ranked among the nation’s top 15 six straight seasons.
Last year in the individual competition, Casey Jo Magee finished second in the nation in the all-around with a 39.55, fourth on beam (9.875), tied for fifth on bars (9.90) and 12th on floor (9.8125). Pisani finished 12th on floor (9.85) and tied for 12th on vault (9.7188).
NCAA Championship Schedule of Events (times central):Thursday – Practice Session 1, 9:15-10:55 a.m.Friday – NCAA Session I Semifinal, 11 a.m.Saturday – NCAA Super Six, 3 p.m.Sunday – NCAA Individual Event Finals, noon
Arkansas in the NCAA Championship:2006, Corvalis, Ore., Oregon State, sixth in Session II Semifinal, 12th in nation2008, Athens, Ga., Georgia, fifth in Session II Semifinal, 10th in nation2009, Lincoln, Neb., Nebraska, second in Session II Semifinal; fifth in Super Six, fifth in nation2010, Gainesville, Fla., Florida, fifth in Session II Semifinal, 11th in nation2011, Cleveland, Ohio
Teams in the NCAA Championship for a Fourth Straight Year:ArkansasAlabamaFloridaOklahomaOregon StateUCLAUtah
NCAA Championship Appearances Since Arkansas’ Program Began in 2003:Alabama 9Florida 9Utah 9Georgia 8LSU 8Michigan 8Oklahoma 8UCLA 8Nebraska 7Oregon State 6Stanford 6Arkansas 5Arizona State 3Brigham Young 3Denver 2Penn State 2
All-Time NCAA Championship Appearances:Utah 30Alabama 29Florida 29Georgia 27UCLA 27LSU 22Oregon State 21Nebraska 20Arizona State 19Michigan 19Penn State 16Oklahoma 11Stanford 11Arizona 10Brigham Young 8Cal. State-Fullerton 7Ohio State 6Arkansas 5Washington 5