Grable, all of 5-0, casts giant shadow

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Saturday, April 5, 2014
Arkansas' Katherine Grable celebrates after competing in the bars during a meet with Kentucky Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, at Barnhill Arena in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas' Katherine Grable celebrates after competing in the bars during a meet with Kentucky Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, at Barnhill Arena in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE - Katherine Grable might be the most diminutive athlete on the University of Arkansas campus.

She stands just 5 feet tall (in heels) and weighs less than 100 pounds, but Grable’s compact stature embodies the heart of a winner - she is the SEC’s gymnast of the year and a four-time first-team All-American - and a titanic competitor.

“She has the ability to find a calm place in her heart and in her mind when she performs,” Arkansas co-Coach Mark Cook said. “She loves the sport. She loves to perform. It’s almost a part of her being.”

Grable, who has 72 career event titles and has won the all-around competition in nine of 11 meet this season, will lead the Razorbacks into today’s 4 p.m. NCAA Regional meet at Barnhill Arena.

“It’s my last meet competing in Barnhill,” said Grable, a senior from Oshkosh, Wis., and the nation’s third-ranked all-arounder. “Regardless of the outcome, we want to go in and compete our hardest at our last meet ever in Fayetteville. Hopefully it works out that we go to nationals.”

The top two teams from each of the six NCAA regionals will comprise the 12-team field for the NCAA Championships in two weeks in Birmingham, Ala. The No. 17 Razorbacks will be an underdog in their own building today, behind perennial powers No. 5 Utah and No. 8 UCLA, who have combined for 15 of the 32 national titles since the NCAA sanctioned the sport in 1982. No. 24 Arizona State,No. 30 Utah State and No. 34 California-Davis also will compete for the team title, and nine individual competitors will be at Barnhill trying to qualify for nationals.

Arkansas, Utah and UCLA have each advanced to the past six NCAA championships, so at least one of those streaks will be snapped today.

Arkansas will lean on Grable, who has 22 all-around titles in her career, her only losses this season coming against Florida’s Bridget Sloan, the nation’s No. 1-ranked all-around performer.

“She’s really good under pressure, obviously,” Arkansas co-Coach Rene Lyst said. “But she trains consistently. She trains at an extremely high level consistently.

“Going into competition is really nothing different than what she does every single day.”

Fellow senior Scarlett Williams, one of the SEC’s top vaulters, said Grable leads by example in the gym.

Grable is “someone we can look up to who has no fear and lets no obstacle come in her way,” Williams said. “Somebody who’s enjoyable to watch and you want to be like her.”

Grable said her place on the national level - she’s been ranked in the top three of the country’s all-arounders all season - is surreal to her.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” she said. “I definitely don’t want it to get to my head, and I don’t let it get to my head because I don’t want to be one of the girls where everyone’s like, ‘Well, yeah, she’s great, but she’s cocky. No one likes her.’”

Cook said Grable’s spatial awareness is what separates her from the competition.

“Her nickname is Cat,” Cook said. “She’s like a cat in the air as far as twisting and stuff. She always knows how to land on her feet and properly, and also she has great presentation. She really lets her joy of doing the sport show when she’s doing it.”

Grable has maintained remarkable consistency while competing in all 44 routines at Arkansas’ 11 meets. She has scored no lower than 9.9 on the floor, no lower than 9.875 on the vault and no lower than 9.85 on the beam. Grable has one score of less than 9.8, a 9.75 on the uneven bars in a meet at Alabama.

Her favorite event is the floor exercise.

“I just feel so confident in every pass I do, every dance move I do, my leaps,” she said. “I just feel so confident, and I don’t think I’ve gotten lower than 9.9 this year. That just comes from the confidence of me knowing I can do it. I’m confident in all my events, but … on floor I just know I’m going to nail it.”

Grable said she realized her career was winding down when she glanced at the wall in her room earlier this week where all of her awards and national trophies are displayed.

“I was just looking at them … to see how the players compete without coaches screaming at them, just thinking about when I was a freshman,” she said. “I never really thought I was going to have all those trophies and all those plaques on my wall and stuff like that.

“It’s just been an unbelievable ride for me.”

Katherine Grable glance SCHOOL Arkansas CLASS Senior HEIGHT 5-0 HOMETOWN Oshkosh, Wis.

SCHOOL RECORDS Three. All-around (tie, 39.725), floor exercise (tie, 9.975), balance beam (tie, 9.95).

CAREER TITLES 72 2014 TITLES 26 (9 all-around, 9 floor exercise, 4 vault, 3 balance beam, 1 uneven bars) NOTEWORTHY Held the nation’s No. 1 ranking in the all-around for one week in 2012. … First-team All-American in 2011 (floor), 2012 (beam) and 2013 (all-around, floor). … Second-team All-American in 2011 (vault) and 2012 (vault). … NCAA event finalist in 2011 (tied for ninth on the floor), 2012 (sixth on the beam) and 2013 (tied for sixth on the floor).

NCAA Gymnastics FAYETTEVILLE REGIONAL WHEN 4 p.m. today WHERE Barnhill Arena, Fayetteville TEAMS COMPETING Six teams competing for one of six NCAA regional titles, with the top two teams advancing to the NCAA Championships on April 18-19 in Birmingham, Ala., and nine individual competitors RANKINGS No. 5 Utah 197.575, No.

8 UCLA 197.005, No. 17 Arkansas 196.355, No. 24 Arizona State 195.855, No. 30 Utah State 195.57, No. 34 California-Davis 195.26. (All scores regional qualifying scores.) TICKETS $10 adults, $5 youth, $25 family plan (2 adults, 2 youths). First 500 students free.

Sports, Pages 21 on 04/05/2014