FAYETTEVILLE – Arkansas’ gymnastics team is on the road for the second straight week and faces a top 10 matchup for the third consecutive meet when the No. 5 Razorbacks travel to No. 6 Alabama for Friday’s 7:30 p.m. contest in Tuscaloosa.
The Razorbacks were at then-No. 6 Georgia last week and faced then-No. 5 Oklahoma in their previous meet.
Arkansas enters the competition No. 5 overall, No. 2 on bars, No. 6 on vault, No. 7 on beam and No. 8 on floor.
"We’ve had a normal week of training again so everyone is looking forward to getting back into our routine," co-head coach René Cook says.
Instead of the typical one-meet-a-week schedule, two weeks ago, Arkansas hosted No. 13 Auburn and No. 5 Oklahoma on a Friday and a Sunday, respectively, for a two-meet weekend. The Razorbacks followed the OU meet five days later with the meet at No. 6 Georgia.
"Most athletes like routines," co-head coach Mark Cook says. "When you get outside that comfort zone, sometimes it throws you off."
"This week has allowed us to make a few changes in skill selection, whether it’s a change or an upgrade" René says. "We’ve been able to make some adjustments we couldn’t make when we were getting ready for meets."
The Razorbacks are led by senior All-American Jaime Pisani, sophomore All-American Katherine Grable, senior Mariah Howdeshell and junior Jordan Salsberg.
Pisani is No. 1 in the nation on floor for the third straight week. She won floor at Georgia last week with her average yearly score of 9.925. Pisani is also No. 7 on bars and tied for No. 15 on vault.
"Jaime is phenomenal," Mark says. "She’s the best kid in the country on that event (floor). She’s really good on all the other events, too. She’s just really poised."
Grable is No. 4 on vault and No. 5 on beam. Howdeshell is No. 4 on bars after being No. 1 the two previous weeks.
In the all-around, Grable is No. 7, Pisani No. 11 and Salsberg No. 31.
"Jaime is awesome," René says. "It’s just another day in the office for her. She wants to win floor and the more weeks she’s ranked No. 1, it’s certainly not going to hurt her chances at the national championship."
Arkansas’ lineup on vault last week was junior All-American Amy Borsellino, junior All-American Kelci Lewis, Salsberg, sophomore Scarlett Williams, Pisani and Grable. Salsberg led off on bars, followed by freshman Stephani Canizaro, Grable, Pisani, sophomore Shelby Salmon and Howdeshell.
On beam, Salsberg was first, followed by Salmon, Williams, Pisani, Lewis and Grable. Borsellino led off on floor, followed by Canizaro, Salsberg Lewis, Grable and Pisani.
Salmon is No. 25 in the nation on bars. Grable and Pisani lead the team with 13 individual event titles each this season while Howdeshell has two event wins.
"The girls had a lot of energy going in," Mark says of last week’s meet at Georgia. "We were focused and pumped up. We went to bars and started strong. We stuck three of the dismounts, but couldn’t break a 49. On vault, we were fantastic and actually beat Georgia. We headed to floor and had a few little errors, which was unusual, and we had a few errors on beam, too. It was kind of a strange competition with some odd things happening."
"The first half of the meet, our energy was high and we were really focused," René says. "We were aggressive. Once we got to floor and had a little mistake, we lost a little momentum and focus. I think they worked hard on beam, but we weren’t as aggressive as we hoped."
Alabama handed Arkansas its only Southeastern Conference regular-season loss last year, beating the Razorbacks in Fayetteville in the league opener. Arkansas followed with five straight wins to tie the Crimson Tide and Florida for the regular-season title.
"We spoke to the team about being more focused and aggressive," René says. "This is Alabama’s Pink Meet (for the Susan G. Komen for the Cure). It’s always their biggest meet of the year. Last year, I think they broke an attendance record with 15,000. We need to focus on what we’re doing and we have some strategy to work on that. It’s exciting to go there and hopefully we’ll compete well."
In last year’s meet, Grable and Pisani tied for the all-around title. Pisani won bars and floor, Grable was second on floor, and Howdeshell and Salmon tied for second on bars.
"It’s going to be loud and there’s going to be a lot of energy," Mark says. "The big thing for us is to adapt to the equipment and the environment, to not get raddled and focus on an aggressive performance on our part."