FAYETTEVILLE – For the seventh straight season, Arkansas’ gymnastics team is happy to be in an NCAA Regional, but the Razorbacks are looking to advance like they have each of the last two seasons. The meet is Saturday at 8 p.m. at UCLA (central).
"Making a regional is the objective every year," co-head coach Mark Cook says. "This is just part of the process."
"This is what you work for the whole year," co-head coach René Cook says. "It’s time for the post-season, but this is just the first step. This is the meet we’ve been waiting for all year."
Arkansas, ranked No. 9 in the nation, is the second seed in the NCAA West Regional. Host UCLA, ranked No. 3, is the top seed. The other teams are No. 17 Iowa State, No. 21 Arizona, No. 26 Brigham Young and No. 32 Arizona State.
"The top two seeds are really strong," Mark Cook says. "Hopefully we can give UCLA a run for their money."
"We’re excited about going to UCLA and competing in Pauley Pavilion," René Cook says. "UCLA, Iowa State, Arizona, Arizona State and BYU are all good teams. UCLA is similar to an SEC program and all the other teams are very good. You see their scores during the season as a reference. They are all quality programs. We have to perform."
Since the SEC Championship on March 26, the Razorbacks have had time to prepare for the post-season.
"We had a couple days to rest," Mark Cook says. "It’s a long season. The format for regionals is different as far as the system for warm-ups and competition. It gives us a chance to practice that."
Arkansas’ rotation has already been determined. The Razorbacks open on floor, followed by vault, bye, bars, beam and bye.
Arkansas is led by seniors Casey Jo Magee, Sarah Nagashima and Amy DeFilippo, junior Stacy Bartlett, sophomores Jaime Pisani and Mariah Howdeshell, and freshmen Kelci Lewis, Amanda Siebert, Amy Borsellino and Natalie Bohonsky.
Magee is ranked No. 2 in the nation on beam and No. 4 as an all-arounder. An All-American last year, she has earned All-Southeastern Conference honors each of the last two seasons, becoming the first two-time honoree in school history.
Pisani is ranked No. 8 in the nation on vault, No. 10 on floor and No. 14 in the all-around. An All-American as a freshman, she also earned All-SEC honors.
Nagashima scored higher than her season averages in all five areas at the SEC Championship, and tied for third with a career-high 9.875 on bars and placed seventh in the all-around with a 39.225.
After being limited to bars for two meets, and bars and beam for four meets due to a knee injury, DeFilippo added floor duties at the SEC Championship. Howdeshell has competed on vault, bars and beam in every meet while Bartlett has been steady on beam and floor all season. Lewis, who has competed as an all-arounder, had a 9.775 on vault and a 9.75 on floor at the SEC meet. Siebert has missed the last two meets, but could return for the regional. Borsellino has competed on vault and Bohonsky on bars.
Magee, Nagashima and DeFilippo are familiar with the arena and equipment at UCLA. Arkansas competed in a quad meet at UCLA in 2008, and won the four-team event.
"We competed there two years ago and it was a successful trip," René Cook says. "Almost half our team is from the West Coast."
The Cooks are also familiar with the area and UCLA. Mark was an assistant at UCLA from 1994-97, helping the Bruins win the 1997 national title. From 1998-2001, he was the head coach at Stanford with René working as an assistant, competing in the Pac 10 against UCLA and winning two conference championships.
"We know the university and the area, and we were there a couple years ago," Mark Cook says. "It’s my home state, so I’m happy to be going there."
The top two teams from each of the six regionals advance to the NCAA Championship, which is April 22-24 in Gainesville, Fla.
Arkansas has advanced three times overall, including the last two years. The Razorbacks were second in the South Central Regional in 2006, second in the North Central in 2007 and won the South Central Regional in Fayetteville last year. Arkansas finished second in the NCAA Championship Session II to advance to the NCAA Super Six for the first time, where the Razorbacks finished fifth in the nation.
Arkansas had this year’s rotation of floor, vault, bye, bars, beam and bye in regionals in 2004 and 2005. The Razorbacks finished fourth each time, in the second and third year, respectively, of the program’s existence. Arkansas’ first event was floor two other times, in 2006 and 2007, after opening with a bye. Those years, the rotation was bye, floor, vault, bye, bars and beam. The Razorbacks were second in 2006 in Fayetteville to advance to the NCAA Championship for the first time in programhistory and third in 2007 in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Against this year’s regional field, Arkansas has all-time records of 3-3 against UCLA, 0-1 against Iowa State, 3-2 against Arizona, 1-0 against BYU and 2-1 against Arizona State. Arkansas has faced Arizona this season, beating the Wildcats in the season-opener in Barnhill Arena.
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