FAYETTEVILLE – Arkansas’ gymnastics team didn’t take the route it thought it would during the 2012 season, but it ended up where it expected all along with a spot in the Super Six and a standing among the top programs in the nation.
The 2012 season marked the 10-year anniversary of gymnastics at Arkansas and the Razorbacks responded with a banner season.
The Razorbacks were ranked No. 11 in the preseason, but they thought they should have been higher. They were right. Three weeks into the season, Arkansas earned the first No. 1 ranking in program history in the GymInfo national rankings.
Arkansas looked to be a sure contender for the Super Six, but injuries derailed the Razorbacks during the last quarter of the season. All-arounders Katherine Grable and Jordan Salsberg were knocked out of the lineup, along with Kelci Lewis, but Grable and Lewis returned for the post-season to help lead Arkansas to a national sixth-place finish.
Senior Jaime Pisani was the leader all year, winning 35 individual event titles for the season to run her career total to 94. She earned four All-America honors and was named the program’s first Southeastern Conference Gymnast of the Year. Pisani set school records on floor (9.975), beam (9.95), bars (9.95) and in the all-around (39.725), and ended the regular season ranked No. 1 in the country on both floor and in the all-around. The first Razorback to earn No. 1 rankings on multiple events, she spent a total of 12 rankings periods listed No. 1 in the nation.
She wasn’t alone in earning a top ranking.
After setting a school record with a 197.225 in a home win over LSU on Jan. 20, Arkansas was the top-rated team in the nation. That meet was also the celebration of the 10-year anniversary of the program with many former Razorbacks returning for a reunion weekend in front of a school-record crowd of 5,537.
Arkansas also earned its first event No. 1 ranking, leading the country on bars for three weeks. That charge was led by senior Mariah Howdeshell, who became Arkansas’ first top-ranked bars worker and led the nation for two weeks.
In late February, Grable became the first Razorback to earn a No. 1 ranking in the all-around, but she was lost with an ankle injury. The same week, against Nebraska, Salsberg was lost for the year with a knee injury. The next week, Lewis, who was competing on three events, went down with an ankle injury.
Grable competed on two events the following week, but was held out for the next three meets. Lewis missed all or most of the following three meets. With Salsberg out for the season, junior Amy Borsellino found success stepping into an all-around role.
Arkansas earned its ninth consecutive spot in an NCAA Regional and hosted for the third time in its history on April 7. Grable and Lewis returned for the regional and helped Arkansas score a 196.825 to finish second behind No. 3 UCLA (197.225), but ahead of No. 15 Boise State (196.05), No. 19 Missouri (195.40), No. 34 Maryland (194.40) and No. 29 New Hampshire (193.90).
Pisani won the all-around and beam titles with school regional records of 39.625 and 9.925, respectively, Borsellino tied for third on floor and sophomore Shelby Salmon tied for third on bars. Grable tied for second on beam and tied for third on bars as Arkansas earned a spot in the NCAA Championship for the fifth straight year and the sixth time in seven years.
Competing in the NCAA Session II semifinal, Arkansas scored just the third 197 in school history with a 197.15, second only to the 197.225 record set against LSU earlier in the year. The Razorbacks finished third in the session, topping No. 5 Georgia, No. 9 Oregon State and No. 12 Ohio State to join the 2009 squad in earning a spot in the Super Six.
In the semifinal, the Razorbacks set a school record with a 49.45 on beam as Pisani and Grable closed the meet with consecutive 9.95s while Salmon had a career-high 9.85. Pisani and Grable tied for the beam title, and Pisani tied for the floor title.
In the Super Six, Arkansas finished sixth in the country with a 196.30, tying the school record of 49.45 on vault. Grable was sixth in the all-around (39.525) and Borsellino was 10th (39.30). Sophomore Scarlett Williams had a career-high 9.925 on vault while Lewis had a personal-best 9.90.
Pisani and Grable advanced to the individual event finals with Pisani finishing third in the nation in the all-around, ninth on floor and 12th on beam. Grable placed sixth in the country on beam.
Pisani, Grable, sophomore Bailee Zumwalde and freshman Stephani Canizaro combined to earn eight All-America honors. Pisani, already the school record holder, added four honors to her total to end her career with 13. She earned first-team honors in the all-around, and on floor and beam, and second-team honors on bars. Grable was a first-teamer on beam and a second-teamer on vault, and now has four career honors. She was first-team on floor and second-team on vault in 2011. Zumwalde and Canizaro each earned their first All-America recognition, second-team on floor.
In its 10 years, Arkansas has had 10 individuals combine for 36 All-America honors. All of those have been since 2008 with 33 since 2009. The eight honors this year is the second-best total in program history. The first Super Six team (2009) had five individuals combine for 11 selections, including three by Pisani – second-team on vault, bars and floor. Pisani’s 13 selections also include first-team on vault and floor, and second-team in the all-around in 2010, and first-team on floor, and second-team on beam and in the all-around in 2011.
Arkansas has also had seven individuals combine for 16 appearances in the event finals, a total that goes up to 19 if the all-around, which is determined during the two semifinal sessions, is included. In the finals, Razorbacks have recorded 14 top 10 finishes.
Arkansas recorded wins over 15 teams ranked in the top 20 and attendance was up over the 2011 average of 2,384 to 3,081. Arkansas’ regional also drew a crowd of 2,713, which was second-best among all regionals to Utah’s 6,558.