FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Sophomore Samantha Nelson burst onto the scene for the University of Arkansas gymnastics team last season. The Peabody, Ma., native had a strong freshman campaign last year, where her scores on the beam counted in 11 of the 12 meets and her floor exercise score counted for the Razorbacks 10 of the 11 times she competed. Nelson’s impressive rookie season came to a climax at the 2014 SEC Gymnastics Championship, where she placed second in the floor exercise, earning All-SEC honors, and posted the highest freshman score on the beam to receive All-SEC freshman team honors.
Nelson recently sat down with ArkansasRazorbacks.com to discuss several topics, including how she got into gymnastics, her strong freshman year and what she has improved on since last season.
Q: How did you get into gymnastics?
A: I started when I was about three-years-old. My mom put me in classes and I did not like it and eventually quit. I tried a bunch of different sports, but I did not like those either, so about the time I was seven, I gave gymnastics another try and ended up falling in love with the sport this go-around and it hasn’t ended yet.
Q: When did you realize gymnastics could lead to a college scholarship?
A: A lot of the older girls in my gym (Ace Gymnastics) were getting college scholarships, so even though I didn’t fully understand what they were receiving at the time, it was something that I was exposed to at an early age. I was seeing girls in my gym who were very talented get scholarships, and once I realized what they were receiving I wanted to be a part of the tradition that my gym had established.
Q: When did you start getting recruiting letters?
A: In the middle of my freshman year I started receiving letters from schools that were interested in me. It was very exciting, but I wanted to continue to improve my skills and improve my fitness, so that I could be a high-level NCAA Division I gymnast. I eventually reached those goals once I signed with Arkansas.
Q: How were you able to get in touch with Arkansas, despite growing up around the Boston area?
A: Arkansas watched me at Nationals my junior year and were really impressed. They got in touch with my coach and wanted to set up a visit. They first came to Boston to watch me, and they really liked what they saw. They told me to take an official visit to Fayetteville, and when I came down here, I instantly fell in love with the gym, the school and the area, so I decided to commit.
Q: How was big was the adjustment from New England lifestyle to Southern lifestyle?
A: It was a big adjustment at first, as it would be for any out-of-area college student. There were some small struggles at first. One aspect that was extremely different is the weather. Down here it stays warmer longer into the year. We are having 60 degree days in November and back home they’ve already had a blizzard. Everyone in Fayetteville was very welcoming and upbeat, and the pride this town has in the Razorbacks made me adjust a lot quicker.
Q: What’s been your favorite memory thus far competing for the Razorbacks?
A: Probably competing in Barnhill Arena for the first time. Seeing so many people at the meet can be overwhelming at times, but they are all here to support and cheer you on, so it really motivated me to perform well and show them the skills I’ve worked hard at my whole life.
Q: How was it having instant success your first year at Arkansas?
A: It meant a lot to me. I wasn’t expecting to be named to the All-SEC team coming in. I just wanted to come here, work hard and do my best. Being named all-conference really showed me, and everyone else, that hard work really does pay off. I need to continue working hard to earn a spot on this year’s All-SEC squad.
Q: Have you seen any improvement in yourself from year-one to year-two, and if so what?
A: I’ve definitely have seen improvement in my skills. I stayed in Fayetteville over the summer to train and get my fitness to a level it needs to be to improve for the upcoming season. I feel a lot stronger, both mentally and physically, and I think fans will notice my improvements in each event I compete in, especially in the vault.
Head coach Mark Cooks team was recently slated as the No. 13-ranked team in the 2015 Gyminfo Preseason Coaches’ Poll, which marked the ninth straight season that Arkansas has been placed inside the top 15 of the preseason poll.
The Razorbacks will face-off with Co-Defending NCAA Champion, Oklahoma, to open the 2015 season on Jan. 9. The Sooners will come into the meet ranked as the No. 2 team in the nation, as they return seven All-Americans from a 2014 squad that tied with Florida at the NCAA National Championship to capture a share of the national title. Start time from the Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Okla., is slated for 7 p.m.
For more information on the Arkansas gymnastics team, follow @RazorbackGym on Twitter.