FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Coming off the best season in its short history, Arkansas’ gymnastics team opens the 2010 season at home on Saturday with a top 20 matchup.
The Razorbacks, ranked No. 8 in the preseason rankings, entertain No. 20 Arizona at 7 p.m. in Barnhill Arena.
“We’ve been ready for some time,” co-head coach Mark Cook says. “The preseason seemed like it was longer than usual, but it was pretty good. Arizona is a strong Pac 10 program and a formidable opponent. They will compete hard, but I think we’re ready.”
In 2009, Arkansas won the NCAA South Central Regional, advanced to the NCAA Championship, advanced to the NCAA Super Six and finished fifth in the nation.
Along the way, the Razorbacks recorded wins over No. 1 Florida, No. 2 Utah, No. 4 Stanford, No. 6 LSU, No. 6 Oregon State, No. 7 UCLA, No. 7 Oklahoma and No. 9 Alabama.
In the program’s seven-year history, Arkansas has earned an NCAA Regional bid six times, advanced to the NCAA Championship three times, earned 14 All-America honors, had five student-athletes advance to the NCAA individual event finals, ranked among the nation’s top 15 in attendance every season and ranked among the nation’s top 35 in team grade point average every year.
“We’re okay with the high expectations,” co-head coach René Cook says. “We hope to be higher than No. 8, but we’re happy with that ranking going into the season.”
Arkansas and Arizona had split four previous meetings. The last came last spring in the NCAA South Central Regional in Fayetteville. Arkansas won its first regional title while Arizona finished fourth.
In 2008, Arkansas finished second in the NCAA North Central Regional in Minneapolis, Minn., to advance to the NCAA Championship while Arizona finished fourth.
The Wildcats won the first two meetings, a regular-season meet at No. 11 Arizona in 2004, and in the NCAA South Central Regional in Tucson later that same year in Arkansas’ first appearance in a regional.
Arkansas returns three competing All-Americans from last year and six total letterwinners. The All-Americans are senior Casey Jo Magee, the defending Southeastern Conference beam champion, and defending NCAA South Central Regional champion on beam and floor; senior Sarah Nagashima, who finished third on beam at the NCAA individual event finals for the highest finish ever by a Razorback; and sophomore Jaime Pisani, who won 13 event titles last year, including the all-around against No. 3 Georgia.
A fourth returning All-American is senior Michelle Stout, who is out for the year with an injury.
Other returning letterwinners are junior Stacy Bartlett, senior Amy DeFilippo and sophomore Mariah Howdeshell. Sophomore Genny Salvatore also returns.
Arkansas’ newcomers are freshmen Natalie Bohonsky, Amy Borsellino, Kelci Lewis and Springdale’s Amanda Siebert.
“Casey Jo Magee is the best she’s ever been,” René Cook says. “Amy DeFilippo has improved a lot and Sarah Nagashima is a big leader for us. We’re also expecting great things from Jaime Pisani.”
Arizona was 13-13 a year ago, fifth in the Pacific 10 Conference and fourth in the NCAA South Central Regional with a No. 24 final ranking. Eight letterwinners return for 11th-year head coach Bill Ryden.
Arkansas is 2-1 when opening the season with a dual meet. Last year, the No. 12 Razorbacks opened with a 195.775-194.625 victory over No. 21 Ohio State. In 2005, Arkansas opened with a win at Minnesota. In 2003, the first year Arkansas fielded a team, the Razorbacks fell to No. 16 Denver in their first outing.