FAYETTEVILLE – Arkansas’ gymnastics team competes in the NCAA Championship for the fifth straight year and the sixth time in seven years on Friday when the Razorbacks compete in Friday’s Session II semfinal in Duluth, Ga.
The Razorbacks are among the top 12 teams in the nation for the sixth time in their 10-year history and have assured themselves of a national top 15 final ranking for the eighth straight year.
Arkansas faces familiar competition in its session, competing with Florida, Ohio State, Georgia, Alabama and Oregon State at 5 p.m. in the Gwinnett Center.
Session I includes UCLA, LSU, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Stanford and Utah. The NCAA is providing a live video stream of both semifinal sessions. Click on the link on this page.
The top three teams from each session advance to Saturday’s 3 p.m. Super Six. The individual event finals are Sunday at noon.
"The attitude of the team is exciting," co-head coach Mark Cook says. "We’re happy and pleased we did so well in the regional and training has been going great. We have to perform well and not count any major errors."
Arkansas has recorded three top 10 finishes in its history, all in the last four years, and reached the Super Six in 2009 before finishing fifth in the nation. The Razorbacks also finished 10th in 2008 and tied for ninth in 2011.
"Everyone is upbeat, excited and looking forward to going back to Duluth," co-head coach René Cook says. "We want to do better than we did the last time there (SEC Championship on March 24). This is the type of competition where there are usually mistakes because everyone is nervous and stressed. Our job is to focus on ourselves and count as few mistakes as possible."
Arkansas is the No. 8 seed in the championship. The seeds in Arkansas’ session include No. 1 Florida, No. 4 Alabama, No. 5 Georgia, No. 8 Arkansas, No. 9 Oregon State and No. 12 Ohio State. The seeds in Session I include No. 2 UCLA, No. 3 Oklahoma, No. 6 Nebraska, No. 7 Utah, No. 10 Stanford and No. 12 LSU.
The rotation is set and for the third time in three post-season meets, Arkansas’ first event is on floor. Arkansas opened on floor at the SEC Championship. At the NCAA Fayetteville Regional, the Razorbacks began with a bye, but their first event was on floor. At the NCAA Championship, Arkansas opens on floor, followed by vault, bye, bars, beam and ends with a bye, but the coaches say this is a different team from the one that competed in the Gwinnett Center for the SEC meet.
"We had a rough SEC meet there," Mark says. "This is a great opportunity to go back there and learn from the SEC meet, and apply what we’ve been doing the last few weeks."
"It’s great for us," René says of returning to Duluth. "Even though we didn’t do well, we know what to expect. We start on floor again, but this is a different team, different lineup and our confidence level is different."
Florida’s rotation is vault, bye, bars, beam, bye and floor. Ohio State is bye, bars, beam, bye, floor, vault. Georgia is bars, beam, bye, floor, vault and bye. Alabama is beam, bye, floor, vault, bye and bars. Oregon State is bye, floor, vault, bye, bars and beam.
Arkansas earned its fifth straight trip to the NCAA Championship by finishing second in the NCAA Regional in Fayetteville. The top two teams from each of the six regionals advance to the semifinals.
Arkansas was ranked No. 1 for the first time in program history earlier in the year, but after battling injuries and losing all-arounder Jordan Salsberg for the season to a knee injury, entered the regional ranked No. 10.
Sophomore All-American Katherine Grable returned after missing the three previous meets with an ankle injury and junior All-American Kelci Lewis was back after missing most or all of the three prior meets with an ankle injury.
"It gives us, as coaches, a little more breathing room and confidence," Mark says of having Grable and Lewis back in the lineup. "We need to stay safe and do good gymnastics."
The Razorbacks responded with their second-best score of the year and set a school record for a regional with a 196.825 to finish second behind UCLA, but ahead of No. 15 Boise State, No. 19 Missouri, No. 29 New Hampshire and No. 34 Maryland.
Grable, competing for the first time in a month, tied for second on beam and tied for third on bars.
"Kat vaulted for the first time in six weeks on Monday," René says. "She wants to help the team and she has individual goals as well, so this helps her and the team. Kelci is strong and going after it. The entire team is feeling good. Hopefully we have two more team competitions and a bunch of people in the event finals, and come home pleased at the end of the weekend."
Senior All-American Jaime Pisani, the Southeastern Conference Gymnast of the Year, was the leader in the regional, winning the all-around (39.625) and beam (9.925), and placed second on floor (9.925) and bars (9.875), and fourth on vault (9.90).
Pisani enters the NCAA Championship with 33 individual event wins this year and is ranked No. 1 in the nation on floor and in the all-around.
Other highlights from the regional include junior All-American Amy Borsellino finishing third on floor (9.90), sixth on vault (9.875) and sixth in the all-around (39.30), sophomore Shelby Salmon placing third on bars (9.85) and 10th on beam (9.80), senior Mariah Howdeshell tying for 10th on bars (9.825), freshman Stephani Canizaro tying for 10th on bars (9.825) and freshman Sammy Kolbas tying for 10th on beam (9.80).
Arkansas’ NCAA Championship history includes finishing sixth in the Session II semifinal in 2006, fifth in Session II and 10th overall in 2008, second in Session II and fifth overall in 2009, fifth in Session II and 11th overall in 2010, and tied for fourth in Session I and tied for ninth overall in 2011.
"We need to be aggressive and calm, and not care about anybody else," Mark says. "If we can do that, a lot of times the other teams will tighten up, so let them make mistakes and focus on what we can do."