FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – For the 12th-straight season, head coach Mark Cook has guided the University of Arkansas women’s gymnastics team to the NCAA Regional competition. His team will take part in the NCAA Morgantown Regional on the campus of West Virginia University this Saturday, April 4, with hopes to advance the program to its eighth NCAA Championship Session.
The 2015 season not only saw the Razorbacks reach the NCAA Regionals for the 12th-straight year, but the team also set a new program best on the floor exercise, tied the fifth-highest team score on the vault, appeared in the top-10 for two weeks and was featured inside the top-20 in the nation all season.
Individually, the Razorbacks had three gymnast named All-SEC, which marked the second-straight season that Arkansas had a trio of representatives on the All-SEC team. The Razorbacks had a total of six athletes win a combined 27 event titles in 2015, with All-SEC gymnast, Amanda Wellick, leading the way with 14. Freshman Paige Zaziski also tied the program record on the uneven bars with her 9.950 against No. 8 UCLA in the regular season finale and won a remarkable seven event titles her first year on campus. Zaziski also earned the SEC Freshman of the Week honor a program-best three times this season, which led her to the team’s second-ever SEC Freshman of the Year accolade.
After opening the season at co-defending national champion, Oklahoma, the Razorbacks held its first competition of the year at Barnhill Arena as they hosted defending SEC Champion, Alabama, in front of a nationally televised audience. The meet was a part of the first-ever live SEC gymnastics broadcast on the SEC Network, as it was the nightcap of a doubleheader.
Trialing the Crimson Tide, 148.025-147.325, going into the final rotation, Arkansas needed an historic performance on the floor to bypass Alabama, and that’s just what they got. Through five floor routines, the Razorbacks had collected three 9.9-plus scores, while Alabama had fallen off the beam three times. Wellick, who performed from the anchor slot of the floor exercise rotation, needed a 9.8-or-better to seal the come-from-behind win. The Wheaton, Illinois native turned in the best floor performance of her career, as the judges gave her a 9.950 to seal the 196.325-196.175 victory over the defending SEC Champion.
The 9.950 on the floor against Alabama was the first of four event titles on the floor for Wellick in 2015, and led the sophomore to her first career SEC Gymnast of the Week honor. The sophomore captured a team-best 14 event titles this season, winning five on the vault, five in the all-around to add to her four floor victories.
After the Alabama win, Arkansas posted back-to-back 196.250’s on the road at Auburn and the Metroplex Challenge. The pair of 196.250’s lifted the Razorbacks to No. 8 in the nation in the Gyminfo Rankings. They maintained the No. 8-spot for two weeks, marking the second-straight season that the Razorbacks held a place inside the top-10 for multiple weeks. Coach Cook’s team would stay inside the top-20 all year and ended the regular season at No. 19 in the Regional Qualifying Score rankings.
The floor exercise wasn’t the only event that the 2015 Razorbacks set a record, as their vault rotation tied for the fifth-highest team score in the event in program history, as they collected a 49.425 against the co-defending champion, and second-ranked, Florida to open February. The Razorbacks had four 9.875-plus scores in the rotation, including a pair of 9.925’s from Wellick and Zaziski. Wellick’s 9.925 started a seven-week-stretch of 9.9-plus scores on the vault, a streak that she takes into Saturday’s NCAA Regional.
The Florida meet served as a launching pad for Zaziski, as the freshman captured the first two event titles of her young career by winning the uneven bars and balance beam. On the year, the Chesterfield Township, Michigan native won seven event titles – 4 UB, 2 AA, 1 BB – and was named the SEC Freshman of the Week a program-best three times. Zaziski was selected as the Co-SEC Freshman of the Year, becoming the second-straight Razorback gymnast to win the honor after Wellick won the conference’s top rookie honor in 2014. The freshman earned All-SEC team with her second-place finish on the vault at the afternoon session of the SEC Gymnastics Championship and was named to the All-SEC freshman team.
Arkansas had a very successful end of February, as they collected three wins in the final three weeks of the month. The team scored a season-best 196.650 in the tri-meet on Feb. 13 against Illinois State and Southeast Missouri and picked up its second SEC win of the year on Feb. 27 with a win over Missouri. The Razorbacks posted a season-best 49.200 on the uneven bars against the Tigers, as Zaziski captured the UB event title with a 9.925, which tied the freshman record on the bars. The freshman also won her first career all-around title with a 39.200.
The Razorbacks opened March with a near upset on the road at perennial NCAA power, Georgia. Arkansas held a 147.550-147.225 advantage over the Gymdogs going into the fourth rotation. The Razorbacks turned in their best performance of the season on the balance beam, posting a 49.100, but Georgia countered with a season-best rotation on the floor to sneak out with a 196.775-196.650 victory. The road score would loom large in the NCAA Regional process, as Arkansas matched its season-best total and one of the 196.650’s would be figured into the Regional Qualifying Score process.
Zaziski once again turned heads in the final meet of the year against No. 8 UCLA, as she scored a 9.950 on the uneven bars to win her fourth UB title in 2015. The score set the freshman record on the uneven bars and tied the program’s best score in the event. Zaziski put together her most complete meet to date against the Bruins, as she posted a career-best 39.450 in the all-around to win her second career all-around event title.
Arkansas opened the postseason in Duluth, Georgia, as they competed in the afternoon session of the SEC Gymnastics Championship. The Razorbacks put together the program’s second-best score at the SEC Championship, as they scored a 195.950 to finish sixth overall. A trio of gymnast earned All-SEC honors, as Wellick and Zaziski finished first and second on the vault during the afternoon session and junior Heather Elswick tied for first on the floor exercise in the same session.
Last Monday, the University of Arkansas women’s gymnastics team was selected to compete in Morgantown, West Virginia for the 2015 NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Regionals. The Morgantown Regional will be a six-team competition which will feature five top-25 ranked teams and one of the defending NCAA National Champions. The top seed in West Virginia will be the co-defending champion, and second-ranked, Florida Gators. No. 11 Stanford, No. 14 Illinois and No. 25 New Hampshire will join the No. 19-ranked Razorbacks in Morgantown, along with host-school West Virginia. Events from the West Virginia Coliseum on April 4 at 3 p.m. CT.
For more information on the Arkansas women’s gymnastics team, follow @RazorbackGym on Twitter.