The Arkansas women’s gymnastics team had been cruising along, winning four consecutive meets, before a disappointing home loss against BYU two weeks ago. It was the team’s second-lowest score of the season, and served as a wake-up call as the postseason rapidly approaches.
The Razorbacks had claimed consecutive victories against four tough Southeastern Conference foes before the hiccup against the Cougars. Arkansas gymnasts knew they could do better than a team score of 195.025 and used the BYU loss to fire them up.
“We knew we had to make a lot of changes,” junior all-arounder Jaime Pisani said. “We had a great season before that, beating a lot of the SEC teams, but we still wanted to hit this 196 [scoring] range. This team has so much talent. After the BYU loss, we came into the gym and had a team meeting and discussed all the little details we had to work on – the landings and the handstands and celebrating and being more enthusiastic.”
The team pow-wow seemed to work, and the Razorbacks rebounded with a stunning season-high score of 196.70 to upset the top-ranked Florida Gators. The victory improved their league mark to 5-1, assuring the Razorbacks a share of the regular-season SEC title.
“Instead of just trying to make our routines, we’re really trying to perform them and show them off,” co-head coach Rene Cook said. “We had a disappointing loss against BYU, and that pushed a lot of people to go after this a lot harder. We came out against Florida and we had a much more aggressive attitude, not just in our gymnastics, but with our encouragement with each other. That really seemed to be the catalyst to bring us some success.”
Pisani sparked the Razorbacks in the victory against the Gators, winning the all-around with a career-best 39.60 – the fifth-best mark in school history. She also claimed the vault, floor and beam titles, and posted career-highs on the beam and uneven bars. Pisani followed up the performance her seventh all-around win of the season (39.35) as the Razorbacks reached the 196 plateau once again, earning their season-best road score with a 196.50-193.775 win at Illinois-Chicago. She garnered SEC Gymnast of the Week for her outstanding efforts.
“Jaime’s a very talented gymnast, but at the same time she is very motivated to make this team successful,” Cook said. “By keeping her teammates motivated and accountable, she is actually improving her own gymnastics at the same time. I’m amazed at how much she continues to improve on an already great foundation. I think it is her passion to will this team to success that is not only helping the team but helping her at the same time.”
Pisani has claimed 21 individual titles this season, and is ranked No. 3 on the floor and tied for No. 8 in the all-around.
No. 12 Arkansas will conclude its home schedule against West Virginia on March 4 before traveling to Denver for the final regular season meet of the year.
“We have a lot of momentum going into postseason,” Pisani said. “This team is going to be awesome.”
Need to Know
• Kent State senior Christina Lenny picked up her second Mid-American Conference Gymnast of the Week award after sparking the Golden Flashes to a season-high score in a 195.875-194.975 win against Western Michigan on Feb. 27. A native of Broadview Heights, Ohio, Lenny posted career-bests on the vault (9.925) and floor exercise (9.925) as KSU tallied the highest team score in the MAC this season. Lenny currently ranks 13th in the nation in the all-around with a RQS of 39.150. She will compete in her final home meet against Ball State as she continues her campaign to reach NCAA Championships, which will be hosted in Cleveland, Ohio, near her hometown of Broadview Heights.
• Stanford’s Dani Ikoma experienced an unforgettable Senior Day, winning her first-ever all-around title with a career-best 39.275 as she compete in her final home meet at Maples Pavilion last weekend. Ikoma never competed as an all-arounder until this season. “For four years, she tried to get into the lineup,” head coach Kristen Smyth said. “She is the toughest, hardest working kid you’ll ever meet.” The Cardinal will look to claim their first-ever undefeated dual-meet season with a win at a quad meet between California, Oregon State and Denver on March 6.
• Rutgers University freshman Luisa Leal-Restrepo garnered East Atlantic Gymnastics League Gymnast of the Week after propelling the Scarlet Knights to their third-highest score in school history and highest mark in more than 10 years with a 194.150 as they downed Bridgeport and Ursinus on Feb. 26. The native of Cali, Colombia, also set a school-record with a score of 39.375 to win the all-around in addition to individual titles on the uneven bars, beam and floor. Rutgers will host Cornell, Southern Connecticut State, West Chester and Yale in the Scarlet Knights final home meet of the season. It will also be the last career home meet for head coach Chrystal Chollet-Norton, who announced her retirement at the conclusion of the season after 25 years at the helm of the Rutgers program.
• LSU has held a spot in the GymInfo Top 25 for 10 consecutive years. At No. 24 this week, the Tigers have been ranked in 147 consecutive polls – a streak dating back to Feb. 26, 2001.
• Michigan senior Kylee Botterman claimed her eighth consecutive all-around victory in the Wolverines loss to No. 3 Oklahoma last week. A native of New Lenox, Ill., Botterman has won 24 individual titles this season, and ranks first in the nation in the all-around with a 39.495 regional qualifying score.
• Nebraska senior Erin Davis moved up to No. 1 in the vault rankings for the first time this season with an RQS of 9.93. Davis tied her season-high score of 9.95 to win the Masters’ Classic on Feb. 27, garnering her fourth Big 12 Specialist of the Week award this year. She is the first Husker to hold the No. 1 vault ranking since Emily Parsons competed for Nebraska in 2005 to 2008.