ARKANSAS OPENS ON THE ROAD
The University of Arkansas opens the 2006 season with a road trip – a long road trip – traveling to Honolulu, Hawai’i, for the Collegiate Women’s Invitational. The Gym’Backs begin the year facing No. 3 UCLA, No. 13 Oregon State, California and Sacramento State – both of whom are receiving votes in the preseason poll.
FIRST TIME TO THE ALOHA STATE
This is Arkansas’ first trip to Hawai’i. It is also the first time the Gym’Backs face California and Sacramento State.
THE ALOHA STATE
The Gym’Backs make their first trip to Hawai’i this year in a meet that seems to change week by week. Originally part of the 30th Annual Aloha Gymfest, the meet has flexed to accommodate more teams after fall hurricanes canceled other meets including one in Cancun, Mexico.
FIRST OF THREE ON THE ROAD
Arkansas is no stranger to the road and again begins the year away from the friendly confines of Barnhill Arena. The Gym’Backs opened 2003 and 2004 at home but kicked off 2005 with three consecutive road meets just as they are again this year.
TOUGH SEC SLATE
Arkansas competes in one of the top conferences for women’s gymnastics, the SEC. The Gym’Backs have two wins over SEC opponents in Barnhill, and Arkansas hosts both of those opponents in Kentucky, Feb. 24, and Auburn March 3, this year.
TOUGH SCHEDULE OVERALL
In addition to a tough conference schedule, the Gym’Backs take on some of the nation’s best during the 2006 regular season. Here’s a closer look:
Arkansas opens with No. 4 UCLA, No. 13 Oregon State and No. 18 Washington.
The Gym’Backs travel to No. 14 Missouri and defending National Champion and top-ranked Georgia.
Arkansas hosts No. 9 LSU and No. 10 Penn State in back-to-back meets.
Next, the team travels to No. 7 Florida facing the Gators and No 23 North Carolina and No. 28 West Virginia. They follow up with a trip to No. 2 Alabama.
Arkansas returns home hosting No. 31 Kentucky – the only SEC team not in the top 30, and No. 16 Auburn. Arkansas follows up with a break from SEC action hosting No. 15 Washington in the longest home stand of the season.
The regular season ends with a trip to No. 6 Nebraska.
HERE KITTY, KITTY
Arkansas hosts Penn State meeting the Nittany Lions for the first time in school history. Penn State is co-head coach René Cook’s alma mater.
The Gym’Backs also face North Carolina for the first time in program history meeting the Tar Heels at Florida in a quad meet along with the Gators and West Virginia. Finally, Arkansas travels to Nebraska facing the regional opponent Cornhuskers for the first time in Lincoln.
AN NCAA REGIONAL IN BARNHILL
Arkansas hosts the program’s first-ever post-season event bringing the NCAA South Central Regional to Barnhill Arena April 8. The Gym’Backs have finished fourth in their two previous Regional appearances in 2004 and 2005.
MORE ABOUT THE REGIONAL
Arkansas hosts the South Central Regional April 8 in Barnhill Arena at 6:00 p.m. The meet differs slightly from any other that the Gym’Backs have hosted in that, its the largest with six teams in attendance, and that it will prompt a reconfiguration of the regular gym floor set up.
Arkansas has hosted quad meets (four teams) in the past but the six-team regional will see two teams get a bye during each rotation. Teams still rotate in Olympic order (vault, bars, beam, floor) but may start on any one of the apparatus depending on the draw.
The competition area also needs to be larger to accommodate all of the teams and additional judges (four on each event instead of two as in dual meets). As a result, the chairback seating on the South side of the arena will remain pushed in allowing the competition area to extend the full length of the gym floor. Arkansas will also bring in a second, elevated press row to accommodate additional media and officials.
FIRST SENIOR CLASS
Arkansas celebrates the program’s first senior class this year. The Gym’Backs added gymnastics for the 2003 season welcoming 11 freshmen to the team. Five of the original 11 still remain as competitive gymnasts and lead Arkansas this year. They are Katie Hardman, Melissa Leigh, Audra Loveless, Hannah McLeod and Dana McQuillin.
Of the six who departed, four still remain in school at the University and all work within the women’s athletics department. Whitney Cashwell works in the Women’s Communications Department while Brooke Lawrence and Kim Harris work with the marketing staff. Valerie Conroy serves as the Gym’Backs’ manager. The remaining two, Kylee Small and Tiffany Berry, returned to their home state of Florida and are closer to family.
FIRST ARKANSAN ON THE ROSTER
Kelley Owen became the first Arkansan to sign with the Gym’Backs. The Pine Bluff, Ark., native could break into either the vault or floor exercise lineup this year – maybe both!