FAYETTEVILLE – Arkansas’ gymnastics team is battling injuries, but the Razorbacks close the regular season at Missouri this week with a top 10 ranking and the top-rated all-arounder in the nation.
Arkansas competes at Missouri on Friday at 6:30 p.m. The Razorbacks are ranked No. 9 in the nation and led by No. 1 all-arounder Jaime Pisani.
Missouri enters the meet ranked No. 16 in the country, giving Arkansas its 15th top 25 matchup of the season. The Razorbacks are 9-5 in those meets this season.
"It’s important to go on the road and be consistent," co-head coach Mark Cook says. "We don’t want to count any falls and be as clean as we can be, and try to score a mid-196. If we can do that, we’ll probably move up in the rankings, but if not, we’re still in good shape."
In addition to being No. 9 overall, Arkansas is No. 5 on vault, No. 6 on bars, tied for No. 9 on floor and tied for No. 13 on beam.
The Razorbacks lost all-arounder Jordan Salsberg to a season-ending knee injury against Nebraska on Feb. 24. Sophomore All-American Katherine Grable has been limited by an ankle injury and missed last week’s meet at West Virginia. In addition, junior All-American Kelci Lewis injured an ankle on her vault landing and was lost for the rest of last week’s meet.
"Both Katherine and Kelci are improving," co-head coach René Cook says. "It depends on the situation and what we need, and what they are capable of doing. They are still training and making progress."
"You have a rhythm in a meet and when you change things around, that changes your rhythm," Mark says. "We had some uncharacteristic falls. That was a surprise and hurt our flow, but the kids fought hard. We made some adjustments and there were some great performances."
Despite the injuries, Pisani has dominated. She’s won nine individual event titles the last two weeks, and climbed to the No. 1 all-around spot in the country. She swept all five individual titles against Minnesota on March 2 and won four last week at WVU, including tying the school record with a 9.95 on beam.
Pisani is No. 1 in the all-around, No. 2 on floor, No. 5 on bars, tied for No. 16 on vault and tied for No. 20 on beam. She’s the only Southeastern Conference gymnast ranked in the top 20 in all five events.
"She’s not only a great athlete, she’s also mentally tough as far as blocking out pain and distractions," René says.
"She’s really going after it this year," Mark says. "She’s a consistent athlete and performer, and she really loves what she’s doing."
Junior All-American Amy Borsellino also starred last week. Competing as an all-arounder for the first time in her career, she won her first individual event title – vault with a career-high matching 9.90 – and was second to Pisani in the all-around with a 39.35.
"It’s nice to see her get healthy enough to do that," Mark says. "She’s doing what she’s capable of doing and we expect her to be in that position for the remainder of the season."
"Amy was fantastic in the all-around," René says. "Knowing she’s able to do that is comforting. It’s exciting because she’s worked hard to get to this point."
Sophomore Scarlett Williams also had a good meet with a career-high 9.775 on floor, a career-high matching 9.875 on beam and a 9.85 on vault.
"Scarlett did a great job and continues to improve every week," René says.
"She’s getting comfortable with herself and her routine on floor," Mark says. "She was aggressive and stuck her landing on beam and she really stuck her vault. She was dialed in the other night."
Arkansas’ lineup last week included Lewis, freshman Stephani Canizaro, Williams, Borsellino, Pisani and sophomore Bailee Zumwalde on vault. Borsellino, Canizaro, Pisani, sophomore Shelby Salmon, senior Mariah Howdeshell and freshman Sammy Kolbas on bars. On beam, Kolbas was first, followed by Williams, Salmon, Borsellino, Pisani and Howdeshell. Williams went first on floor, followed by Kolbas, Canizaro, Zumwalde, Borsellino and Pisani.
Following the meet at Missouri, Arkansas travels to Duluth, Ga., for the SEC Championship on March 24. Arkansas is hosting the NCAA South Central Regional in Barnhill Arena on April 7 at 4 p.m.
"Everyone in the lineup is capable of scoring a 9.80 or higher and that’s what we need," René says. "We need to hit our routines and build on that heading into the SEC meet."
Tickets for the regional are $10 for adults and $5 for youth 18 and younger. A family plan is also available, including two adult and two youth tickets for $25.
Tickets can be purchased at the UA Ticket Center on Razorback Road, by calling 479-575-5151 or 800-982-4647, or online at ArkansasRazorbacks.com.