Gymnastics Overcomes Injuries, Struggles
No. 10 Arkansas’ gymnastics team advanced to its fifth consecutive NCAA Championship on Saturday by finishing second to No. 3 UCLA in the NCAA South Central Regional.
It wasn’t an easy road to qualifying for nationals.
This season, the Razorbacks experienced highs and lows. Arkansas achieved its first No. 1 ranking in January, but lost six of its final seven regular season meets and finished sixth at the Southeastern Conference Championship.
“The crazy thing about our sport is win-loss doesn’t really matter, we’re still scoring well,” Mark Cook said. “We might have lost four meets in the last four weekends, but we have probably won about one hundred and fifty meets because we are competing against everybody else in the country.”
The Razorbacks competed against five teams at the regional, earning the NCAA berth for the sixth time in program history. Arkansas won after starting strong on floor and ending strong on beam.
“We practiced this at SEC’s, we started on floor there too,” senior All-American Jamie Pisani said. “So we had practiced this rotation, and we knew what to expect of it. We have also practiced having the bye rotations and activities to do during those byes.
“It was good for us to start on floor and we managed it well.”
The Razorbacks had to overcome a slew of injuries late in the season to make the NCAA Championship. In the midst of its late-season slide, Arkansas was often without three key pieces to its team.
All-American Katherine Grable and Jordan Salsburg –– both all-arounders –– went down with injuries that forced them to miss significant time this season.
Salsburg suffered a season-ending torn ACL. Grable sprained her ankle and missed four weeks before returning last Saturday alongside Kelci Lewis who was also out with a ankle injury sustained at Missouri.
With Grable and Lewis in the lineup, the Razorbacks posted a 196.825 on Saturday, their second-highest score of the season. Grable tied for second on beam and third on bars in her first meet since early March.
“It calmed down the whole group and it got us re-centered,” Cook said. “We were the team we had been in preseason, we had lost that identity a little bit the last three meets but we regained it tonight.”
After experiencing the joys of being the No. 1 team and the nation and the lows of being stuck in a long losing streak, Arkansas’ players will get to compete April 20-22 as one of the top 12 teams in the nation.
“You know SECs are bragging rights, but this is making it to nationals,” Cook said. “This is the big one.”