FAYETTEVILLE – For the fourth time in five years, Arkansas’ gymnastics team is competing for a national championship.
The seventh-ranked Razorbacks take the floor for Thursday’s 6 p.m. (central) NCAA Session II semifinal in the University of Florida’s O’Connell Center in Gainesville, Fla.
The Razorbacks advanced by finishing second in the NCAA West Regional at No. 3 UCLA on April 10. The top two teams from each of the six regionals qualify for the NCAA Championship.
"We’ve made it to the NCAA Championship four times in our eight years of having a program," co-head coach René Cook says. "That’s half of our existence. A lot of programs never get there."
"We’ve made it three years in a row," co-head coach Mark Cook says. "That’s our goal and our dream. We want to create a culture where we go over and over again."
Arkansas is competing in the second session with No. 1 Alabama, No. 4 Florida, No. 6 Michigan, No. 6 Stanford and No. 15 Missouri. The first session, which is at noon, includes No. 2 Oklahoma, No. 3 UCLA, No. 8 Oregon State, No. 10 Utah, No. 11 LSU and No. 12 Nebraska.
The top three teams from each semifinal advance to Friday’s Super Six, which begins at 6 p.m. Arkansas finished second in the second semifinal last year and advanced to the Super Six for the first time where the Razorbacks finished fifth in the nation.
"This is another season for us and another door to go through," Mark Cook says. "We want to make it to the Super Six and compete for the national championship. We’ve worked and trained hard. We need to stay in the moment."
"We’re excited about our rotation," René Cook says. "We’re excited about being in the same session as the host team (Florida). There should be a lot of energy in the gym. We feel great."
Arkansas’ rotation for the NCAA semifinal is bars, beam, bye, floor, vault and bye. The Razorbacks have had success with that rotation in the post-season. That was Arkansas’ rotation in NCAA regional action in both 2008 and 2009. In 2008, Arkansas scored a 196.125, and beat No. 14 Arizona and No. 23 Iowa, among others, to finish second and advance to the NCAA Championship. In 2009, Arkansas scored 196.300 points to win the NCAA South Central Regional over No. 4 Stanford and No. 16 Michigan, among others, to advance to the NCAA Championship.
Arkansas is coming off a meet in which the Razorbacks set a school record for points scored in an NCAA regional with 196.675. That total, combined with Arkansas’ season regional qualifying score of 196.510 has the Razorbacks seeded seventh in the NCAA Championship.
In the regional, Arkansas posted a 49.100 on vault, 49.400 on bars, 49.05 on beam and 49.125 on floor. The score on bars is an overall school record while the score on vault is fourth-best in a regional, the beam score is second-beat and the floor score third-best.
The regional total is the eighth-best score in program history. In fact, the Razorbacks have recorded five of the program’s top eight scores this season.
"The regional was a great trip from the moment we left until we got home," Mark Cook says. "We had a lot of energy and we were focused."
"It was great to get outside the Southeastern Conference," René Cook says. "The way we competed was outstanding from our first routine through our last routine."
The Razorbacks are led by senior All-Americans Casey Jo Magee and Sarah Nagashima, sophomore All-American Jaime Pisani, senior Amy DeFilippo, junior Stacy Bartlett, sophomore Mariah Howdeshell, and freshmen Kelci Lewis, Amanda Siebert, Natalie Bohonsky and Amy Borsellino.
Magee won beam at the NCAA West Regional and set a school record for a regional with an all-around score of 39.600 by scoring 9.90 on all four events. Her vault, beam and floor scores tied the school records for a regional. Pisani’s 39.425 is second-best for a regional, and her 9.90 on floor tied the school record. DeFillippo’s 9.90 on bars tied for second-best in a regional. Nagashima had a 39.025, which is seventh-best in a regional, while her 9.875 on bars and 9.85 on beam tie for fifth-best.
Magee is ranked No. 2 in the nation on beam and No. 4 in the all-around. Pisani is No. 8 on vault, No. 10 on floor and No. 14 in the all-around.
"We’ve made it three years in a row from the inside out," Mark Cook says. "As coaches, sometimes we’re just guides. Those seniors have controlled it."
"Every year you have obstacles and difficulties," René Cook says. "This group has stayed on course."
Following Friday’s Super Six, the individual event finals are Saturday at 6 p.m. Arkansas has produced five individual event finalists, all in the last two years. In 2009, Nagashima tied for third on beam. Michelle Stout, who is out this year with an injury but will return as a senior next year, tied for fifth on vault and tied for seventh on bars. Alex LaChance tied for ninth on beam.
For live stats and/or live video of Arkansas’ semifinal session, click on the links above.