FAYETTEVILLE – Coming off its third straight appearance in the NCAA Championship, Arkansas’ nationally prominent gymnastics program began official practice for the 2011 season on Tuesday.
The Razorbacks, about to begin their ninth year of competition, have advanced to an NCAA Regional seven straight years and reached the NCAA Championship four times in eight seasons, including the last three.
Eight letterwinners return from last year’s club, which finished 11th in the nation, second in the NCAA West Regional at UCLA and recorded eight wins over teams ranked in the top 25. Arkansas was also 16th in the nation and first in the Southeastern Conference in team grade point average, and No. 11 in average attendance.
The returnees from 2010 are junior All-American Jaime Pisani, senior Stacy Bartlett, sophomore Natalie Bohonsky, sophomore Amy Borsellino, junior Mariah Howdeshell, sophomore Kelci Lewis and sophomore Amanda Siebert,
Senior Michelle Stout, an All-American in 2008 and 2009, returns after missing last season with an injury. Junior Genny Salvatore also returns after missing last year with an injury.
"It’s always exciting when official practice begins," co-head coach Mark Cook says. "The girls have been in volunteer training since the summer, but now we’re allowed to officially work together as a team with assignments. We lost a great group of seniors from last year’s team, but have added four new freshmen and a transfer junior. Also returning is All-American senior Michelle Stout, who sat out last year due to a serious injury. We’re looking forward to Michelle and junior Jaime Pisani, who is another All-American, being instrumental in leading this young team."
"We are excited to begin our official pre-season practices," co-head coach René Cook says. "We are pleased with the progress of the team to this point. We have our first intra-squad on Friday, and that will give us a better indication of our strengths and weaknesses both individually and as a team."
Pisani won 18 individual event titles as a sophomore, and earned first-team All-America honors on vault and floor, and was a second-teamer in the all-around. She advanced to the NCAA individual event finals, and placed 10th on floor and tied for 12th on vault.Howdeshell earned the team’s Most Improved award last year after competing on vault, bars and beam. She had seven top four finishes and tied for eighth on bars at the NCAA West Regional.
Lewis competed as an all-arounder in several meets, and in every meet on vault and floor. She had nine top four finishes, including two in the all-around and five on floor.
Bartlett competed on beam and floor with three top five finishes, Bohonsky worked her way into the bars rotation at the end of the season, Borsellino tied for 13th on vault at the NCAA West Regional, and Siebert competed on vault and floor with a season-high 9.825 vault at the NCAA Championship Session II semifinal.
Stout earned four All-America honors in 2009, helping the Razorbacks advance to the NCAA Super Six and finish fifth in the nation. She was a first-teamer on vault, bars and in the all-around, and a second-teamer on floor. She won 16 individual event titles, including eight on vault. In the NCAA individual event finals, she finished fifth on vault and tied for seventh on bars.
The newcomers are freshmen Katherine Grable, Shelby Salmon, Scarlett Williams and Bailee Zumwalde, and sophomore Jordan Salsberg.
"We have a big freshman class and we expect all of them to contribute right away," Mark Cook says. "We are also very pleased with sophomore transfer Jordan Salsberg, who we see as having a big impact this year, too. All of our returners have worked hard in the off-season and are anxious to get things going and bring it on!"
Grable and Zumwalde finished first and second, respectively, in the all-around at the Junior Olympic Level 10 National Championship in Dallas during the summer. Grable was third on vault, second on bars, third on beam and tied for ninth on floor. Zumwalde tied for third on bars, tied for fifth on beam and tied for second on floor.
Salmon tied for fifth on bars, and Williams tied for ninth on bars and tied for ninth in the all-around.
Salsberg, a transfer from Southeast Missouri State, had freshman highs of 9.825 on vault, 9.85 on bars, 9.75 on beam, 9.80 on floor and 38.825 in the all-around. She won 12 individual event titles, including the all-around against Illinois State. She tied for No. 91 in the nation in the all-around and for No. 142 on vault.
Arkansas opens the season on Jan. 7 at Oklahoma. The first home meet is Jan. 14 against Alabama.