FAYETTEVILLE – After setting a school record with five Southeastern Conference dual meet wins and tying for the regular-season title, No. 12 Arkansas faces those teams again this week in Saturday’s SEC Gymnastics Championship.
The meet is at 4 p.m. in Birmingham in the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center.
"We want to go and not count a mistake," co-head coach René Cook says. "That’s our No. 1 focus. We can’t control the scoring or how other teams do, but we can control how we perform and not counting a mistake. If we do that, we will be competitive with anyone in the gym. We’re looking forward to getting out there."
The Razorbacks went 5-1 against the league during the regular season. After opening with a home loss to No. 9 Alabama, Arkansas followed with wins at No. 27 Kentucky, at No. 22 Auburn, at home against No. 4 Georgia, at No. 19 LSU and at home over No. 1 Florida.
Arkansas finished the regular-season 7-4 overall, setting school records for dual meet wins, SEC wins and road wins with four.
"This is a big weekend, not just for the conference championship, but also for our national ranking and where we’re heading (for an NCAA Regional) after that," Cook says. "We’re looking forward to getting out there and we’re excited for the opportunity."
Arkansas is coming off a loss at No. 18 Denver. The Razorbacks had two falls on bars, but still led heading into the final rotation.
"We started off counting a fall on bars," Cook says. "We were a bit tentative, but contrary to that, the next three events were outstanding. We were aggressive and performed very, very well. We finished the meet solid, but unfortunately it was a little short to come up with the win. At the end of the meet, we got a good road score we can count (for rankings) and felt good about how we finished the competition. The fact that we were a quarter-point short gives us a little motivation, too."
The Razorbacks are led by junior All-American Jaime Pisani. She has 26 individual event titles this year, including nine in the all-around and nine on floor. Pisani is ranked No. 3 in the nation in the all-around, No. 3 on floor and tied for No. 15 on vault.
Freshman Katherine Grable is second on the club with eight individual wins. She is tied for No. 15 in the nation in the all-around, No. 20 on floor and tied for No. 29 on beam.
Arkansas’ lineup last week included sophomore Kelci Lewis, sophomore Jordan Salsberg, sophomore Amy Borsellino, Grable, Pisani and senior All-American Michelle Stout on vault. On bars, Salsberg was followed by Grable, junior Genny Salvatore, junior Mariah Howdeshell, Pisani and Stout. On beam, freshman Scarlett Williams led off and was followed by Pisani, Salsberg, freshman Shelby Salmon, Grable and senior Stacy Bartlett. On floor, freshman Bailee Zumwalde went first, and was followed by Salsberg, Borsellino, Lewis, Grable and Pisani.
In last year’s SEC meet, Casey Jo Magee earned first-team All-SEC honors by finishing third in the all-around and Pisani earned second-team recognition after tying for second on floor. Pisani’s 9.90 on floor matches the school record in the SEC meet.
Stout holds the school SEC meet record with a 9.90 on vault and is tied for the top spot with a 9.90 on bars.
Since Arkansas’ first season in 2003, the Razorbacks have finished fifth once, in 2005, and sixth the other seven years.
The SEC meet is on podium, meaning each event is on a raised platform, which is different from regular-season competition.
"The equipment will have a little more bounce to it," Cook says. "You’re also up there by yourself. The rest of the team is far away, so they will need to be confident in themselves without their teammates right there with them. We have a practice day on Friday, so that will help and we’ll do some things with any of the newcomers who haven’t experienced podium before."
Following the SEC Championship, the Razorbacks will be off for a week before heading to an NCAA Regional. Regionals are April 2 and are at six sites – Ann Arbor, Mich. (Michigan), Athens, Ga. (Georgia), Corvallis, Ore. (Oregon St.), Denver, Colo. (Denver), Norman, Okla. (Oklahoma) and Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Alabama).
The top two teams from each regional advance to the NCAA Championship, which is April 15-17 in Cleveland.
Arkansas has earned a spot in a region for seven straight years and advanced to the NCAA Championship four times, including each of the last three seasons.
The SEC meet is being televised by ESPN2. The tape-delay broadcast airs on April 3 at 2 p.m.