FAYETTEVILLE - Stephani Canizaro and Samantha (Sammy) Kolbas, perennial Junior Olympic Level 10 national qualifiers, are the newest members of Arkansas' nationally ranked gymnastics program, co-head coaches Mark and René Cook announced on Thursday.
The standouts join the program after extremely successful sophomore and junior competitive seasons. Combined in 2010, they won six state titles, two all-around regional titles and five event regional titles.
Canizaro is from Nesbit, Miss., attends Faith Heritage Christian Academy and trains at Gymstars Gymnastics. Her highs scores after her junior year are 9.70 on vault and bars, 9.6 on beam, 9.575 on floor and an all-around high of 38.425.
Kolbas is from Naperville, Ill., attends Neuqua Valley High School and trains at Arena Gymnastics. Kolbas is a two-time Region V all-star team member who traveled to Slovenia and Venice, Italy, in 2010, and in 2009 traveled to Grand Cayman. Her high scores through her junior year are 9.7 on vault, 9.675 on bars, 9.7 on beam, 9.575 on floor and a 38.425 in the all-around.
"Stephani and Sammy both verbally committed to us early in their junior years," René Cook says. "We are so excited to get this dynamite duo on campus. They are both standout athletes on bars and beam, but will also provide reinforcements and pizazz to our floor and vault lineups. We expect both of them to come in and make an impact on the program on the floor and with their energetic personalities."
"Stephani is a very polished gymnast who has a different look to her gymnastics," Mark Cook says. "Sammy comes to us from Arena Gymnastics, which has great coaches, and they have trained her very well. They are both looking to win the USA Junior Olympic all-around championship this year. Both of these girls can do that."
In 2010, Canizaro swept all five titles at the Tennessee state meet, becoming state champion on each event and in the all-around. Canizaro was the 2010 Region VIII all-around champion with additional titles on bars and floor, and runner-up finishes on vault and beam. At the J.O. Level 10 national championship, she tied for ninth on floor. During the 2010, season Canizaro qualified for the prestigious Nastia Liukin Cup along with wining the all-around in five of her seven competitions.
"Stephani is one of the most beautiful gymnasts I have ever watched," René Cook says. "Her strength, grace and artistry are a unique combination that will set her apart in the SEC and on the national level. She has a high level of difficulty as well. I am so excited to get Stephani on campus. I know she will be an influential player in the future success of the program."
In 2009, Canizaro had a solid sophomore campaign. She won three Tennessee state titles, including the all-around, vault, bars and floor with a runner-up finish on beam. Canizaro continued her success at the Region VIII meet, where she finished third on floor, fourth on vault and sixth in the all-around, which qualified her to the Junior Olympic Level 10 National Championship. At the national meet, Canizaro's top finishes included a 14th place on bars and a 17th place on floor.
Canizaro qualified as a pre-elite in 2006, winning a medal on vault at the US Classic/Challenge. She has been invited and attended regional, national and elite training camps.
Canizaro's maternal grandfather Tom DeNomie was the president of the Hot Springs Razorback Club from 2003-06.
"Stephani's grandmother lives in Hot Springs," Mark Cook says. "It seemed to be fate that brought her to the University of Arkansas, and our fans will love what she can do. She is strong on all four events, but really shines on bars where she can do almost every trick in the book."
Kolbas, in 2010, won titles at the prestigious Sand Dollar Invitation on bars, beam and the all-around. She also won bar titles at the GymQuater Invitational and her home meet the Arena Classic. At the 2010 Illinois state meet, Kolbas was the balance beam champion, had two runner-up finishes on bars and in the all-around, along with a third-place finish on floor and a fourth on vault. Kolbas was the 2010 Region V all-around, vault, bars and beam champion along with being the runner-up on floor. That performance qualified her for the Junior Olympic Level 10 nationals.
"Sammy is a really neat kid with a great personality," Mark Cook says. "She has lots of energy, a great work ethic and shows passion for the sport of gymnastics. Sammy will make a huge impact on our program in all areas. Her strengths are bars, beam and floor. I feel that Sammy will also emerge as a future leader on this team, and help us push for a national title."
In 2009, Kolbas was the Illinois state champion on bars. She was also fifth on vault and floor, and sixth in the all-around. The 2009 Region V balance beam champion, Kolbas also finished second on bars and in the all-around, along with finishing third on floor. She advanced to the Junior Olympic Level 10 nationals and earned a national title on bars. Kolbas also placed ninth in the nation on beam and 11th in the all-round.
"I am looking forward to having 'SammyK' in the gym every day," René Cook says. Her fun-loving spirit and her passion for gymnastics are infectious. Throw in her talent and it's going to be a recipe for success. SammyK's standout events are bars and beam. Her difficulty and consistency will make her a mainstay in our lineup. However, she is solid on both floor and vault, and we will look forward to her contributions there as well."