FAYETTEVILLE – Arkansas’ eighth-ranked gymnastics team closes its regular-season home schedule on Friday when the Razorbacks entertain No. 18 Minnesota in Barnhill Arena at 7 p.m.
Friday is also Senior Night with Mariah Howdeshell, Jaime Pisani and Genny Salvatore appearing in Barnhill for their final Razorback competition. Although Friday’s meet is the last regular-season home meet, Arkansas is hosting the NCAA South Central Regional in Barnhill on April 7 at 4 p.m.
Due to construction around Barnhill Arena, parking is available in the following areas – Lot 44, immediately north of the Broyles Athletic Center, Lot 73 at the corner of Razorback Road and Markham and the Stadium Drive parking garage. For fans parking in Lot 73, access to Barnhill Arena is through Gate 1 of Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Also as a reminder, will call is at the south side entrance of Barnhill.
"This senior class is quite a group," co-head coach René Cook says. "Jaime is phenomenal. She’s been the heartbeat for everything we’ve done athletically. Mariah, I’m probably more proud of her than anyone. She loves the program and steps up no matter what. Genny is our angel. She has such a positive outlook, is kind and she’s a leader. She’s an amazing person.
"It will be very exciting for them," she says. "We’re looking forward to getting out there, getting some momentum going and enjoying their performances."
Pisani is competing as an all-arounder for the fourth straight year, Howdeshell is a bars specialist this season, but may be pressed into duty on other events, and Salvatore is out this year with a knee injury after being a regular in the bars lineup last season.
"Jaime has contributed so much, she’s the total package," co-head coach Mark Cook says. "Mariah has fought through four years and done a phenomenal job. She’s a tough kid and has overcome a lot of obstacles. Genny had a chance to compete at the national championship last year. She’s weathered all those injuries. These are three special ladies."
Arkansas enters Friday’s meet with two of the No. 1-ranked individuals in the nation. Pisani is No. 1 in the country on floor for the fifth straight week. She leads the country with an average score of 9.930. Sophomore All-American Katherine Grable is ranked No. 1 in the all-around with an average score of 39.45.
It’s the second time this year two Razorbacks have been ranked No. 1 at the same time. Earlier this season, Pisani was No. 1 on floor and Howdeshell was No. 1 on bars for two straight weeks.
"Jaime has established herself for five weeks as the top floor worker in the country," Mark says. "She’s on a mission to win that event. For Katherine to be the top all-arounder is impressive. It’s pretty cool to have two kids ranked No. 1. It’s exciting that they are here and getting better, and getting respect and recognition for themselves and for the university."
Pisani is also ranked No. 6 on bars and No. 9 on vault. Grable is No. 3 on floor, No. 4 on vault and No. 5 on beam. Howdeshell is tied with Pisani at No. 6 on bars.
"It’s exciting when you have the best in the country," René says.
Arkansas will not be at full strength against the Gophers on Friday. Junior Jordan Salsberg, ranked No. 22 in the nation in the all-around, suffered a knee injury in last week’s meet against Nebraska and is out for the year. In addition, Grable tweaked an ankle on her vault landing and was pulled from the floor competition. She is expected to compete on bars and beam this week, but not vault and floor.
"We had a pretty good meet going and Jordan got hurt, but the girls responded," Mark says. "The kids fought through and showed a lot of character. Jordan is done for the year, but she’ll be back. She has a positive attitude. Katherine should be back (in all four events) in a couple of weeks."
"We were neck-and-neck with Nebraska after two events and competing well and with a lot of energy," René says. "The way they handled everything was outstanding. They kept their composure. We had a lot of adjustments on floor after losing Kat and Jordan in the same meet, but nobody panicked. They responded, worked hard and we still had a decent score."
The Razorbacks did get a boost with junior All-American Amy Borsellino returning to the lineup last week and scoring a 9.825 on floor.
Arkansas’ lineup last week included a vault order of junior All-American Kelci Lewis, freshman Stephani Canizaro, sophomore Scarlett Williams, Salsberg, Pisani and Grable. On bars, Salsberg led off, followed by Canizaro, Grable, Pisani, sophomore Shelby Salmon and Howdeshell. Salsberg went first on beam, followed by Salmon, freshman Sammy Kolbas, Williams, Pisani and Grable. Sophomore Bailee Zumwalde was first on floor, followed by Canizaro, Borsellino, Lewis, Pisani and Williams.
"Amy is back, and that could help with the vault lineup," René says. "Mariah and Bailee have also vaulted. On floor, Amy is back in. Scarlett came in and did a great job and we have Stephani, too. We also have a few others training in case we need them."
Arkansas and Minnesota last competed two years ago with the No. 8 Razorbacks claiming a 196.925-194.85 win in Minneapolis. That score is still a record for a true road meet. In that meet, Pisani had a 9.95 to win vault and a 9.95 to win floor, which tied the then-school record. She has since broken that record with a 9.975 earlier this year.
"We’ve seen Minnesota a number of times," Mark says. "They have a great program with a lot of history. They will be clean and consistent, and fun to watch."
"Minnesota posted its high score for the season last week," René says. "We have to be clean to beat them. If we keep it simple and stay focused on what we can control, I think we’ll have a great meet."