FAYETTEVILLE – Following a two-meet home weekend, Arkansas’ gymnastics team is on the road for a top 10 matchup at Georgia on Friday at 6:30 p.m. (central).
The Razorbacks are ranked in the nation’s top three for the fourth straight week and carry a No. 3 GymInfo national ranking into the contest against No. 6 Georgia.
Arkansas began the year No. 11 in the preseason and has reached as high as No. 1 for the first time in program history.
In the events, Arkansas is No. 1 in the country for the third straight week on bars, No. 4 on floor, No. 6 on vault and No. 7 on beam.
"I’m very proud of our team," co-head coach Mark Cook says. "They are establishing themselves as some of the premier athletes in the country. To be No. 1 in the country on bars and in the top three as a team is an affirmation of our hard work. It’s a long season, but we’re halfway through, so what they’ve accomplished is definitely well-respected."
Last week, the Razorbacks recorded a home win over No. 13 Auburn on Friday before falling to No. 5 Oklahoma on Sunday.
"Auburn was a good meet," Cook says. "We preformed aggressively and did really, really well. For Oklahoma, we tried to rest them on Saturday and come back on Sunday, and we were a little flat and made a few mistakes. That was our worst performance of the year, but like I told the girls, you can’t go through an entire season and hit every meet. If that was our bad one, we’ll just move on. The kids are tough. The best athletes move on and they aren’t holding onto that meet.
"Our focus is on Georgia," he says. "We came back with a light day on Monday and we’re cycling to let them get some rest so we’ll come back strong. We want to go to Georgia and be aggressive. We want to stay in our circle and focus on execution, good technique and one event at a time, and our goal is to beat them."
Individually, the Razorbacks feature the top two performers in the nation on both bars and floor.
Senior Mariah Howdeshell is ranked No. 1 in the country on bars with senior All-American Jaime Pisani one spot behind at No. 2. On floor, Pisani tops the nation with sophomore All-American Katherine Grable next at No. 2. Grable is No. 2 in the nation in the all-around while Pisani is No. 7 and junior Jordan Salsberg No. 27.
In addition, Grable is tied for fourth on beam and is sixth on vault. Pisani is 14th on vault and sophomore Shelby Salmon is tied for 23rd on bars.
Pisani and Grable are tied for the team lead with 12 individual event titles this year.
"To have the first and second-ranked individuals on two events is a credit to their work," Cook says. "Mariah has been very consistent and done a good job. Jaime, Katherine and Jordan have all been very, very consistent. They are all performing really good routines and being consistent is how you get ranked."
Arkansas recorded its first-ever win over Georgia last year in Fayetteville when the No. 11 Razorbacks posted a 195.775-195.40 victory. Georgia leads the all-time series 19-1-1, but it was 1-1-1 last year, including a tie for ninth in the nation at the NCAA Championship.
Arkansas’ lineup on vault last week included junior All-American Kelci Lewis, Salsberg, sophomore Scarlett Williams, Pisani, Grable and sophomore Bailee Zumwalde. The No. 1-ranked bars order was Salsberg, freshman Stephani Canizaro, Grable, Pisani, Salmon and Howdeshell. On beam, Salsberg led off and was followed by Salmon, Williams, Pisani, Lewis and Grable. Zumwalde led off on floor, followed by Salsberg, Lewis, Grable, Pisani and Canizaro.
Following the meet at Georgia, Arkansas travels to Alabama on Feb. 17 before returning home to face Nebraska on Feb. 24.