GYM’BACKS HOME FOR THREE IN A ROWThe University of Arkansas gymnastics team is in Fayetteville hosting three meets in a row. Arkansas hosted No. 19 Kentucky and 13 Auburn and welcomes No. 36 Washington in back-to-back Friday meets with the Huskies coming to town on Sunday.
THE FIRST GYM’BACK SENIOR NIGHT Tonight, the University of Arkansas honors five seniors in their final regular season home meet. Seniors Katie Hardman, Melissa Leigh, Audra Loveless, Dana McQuillin and Hannah McLeod don the Cardinal and White for the final time in the regulars season in their home gym.
KATIE HARDMAN While some people would have found it difficult to be a member of an inaugural team at a University that had never had gymnastics but Katie Hardman embraced the challenge and has become the very definition of a Gym’Back. As Hardman’s collegiate career continues, she has emerged as a crowd favorite. While at Arkansas she has competed on all four events but is best know for her balance beam skills, an event she holds the school record in. Hardman battled injury but her determination kept her in the lineup during her junior season with the Gym’Backs. Hardman’s beam was again her most impressive and consistent event peaking with a season-best 9.90 at fourth-ranked LSU in early February. She hovered around the 9.85 mark all season finishing the year with three consecutive 9.80s. Hardman’s floor was also a crowd-pleaser as she ended each routine with a kiss to the fans. She recorded a pair of 9.875 as her floor exercise season bests. Hardman also competed bars for Arkansas last year hitting her top season score of 9.825 against No. 4 Florida in Barnhill. The 2006 campaign didn’t get off to the start the senior was hoping for. An off-season knee surgery was complicated by a car accident that sidelined Hardman until the fourth meet of the season against the No. 11 LSU Tigers. Her triumphant return on the beam saw Hardman post a 9.750 – a mark she bettered to 9.875 against No. 18 Kentucky.
MELISSA LEIGH As a freshman, Melissa Leigh vaulted in the first two meets before focusing on both the bars and beam for Arkansas. Leigh expanded her talents the following year and was a regular on vault, bars and beam for the Gym’Backs. She will forever be a part of school history becoming the first Gym’Back to earn all-Southeastern Conference honors with a 9.90 to finish tied for third at the league meet. As Leigh improved, so too did the Gym’Backs as the team earned its first NCAA Regional trip during her sophomore season. Arkansas finished fourth overall in the six-team meet while Leigh tied her own school record with a 9.925 on the bars – a record that stood until this year. As a junior recurring injuries limited Leigh primarily to bars and beam but her high level of competition earned her a pair of individual wins on bars last year. Leigh’s senior year saw the Orlando, Fla., native go high with a 9.9 on bars and average 9.761 for the season.
AUDRA LOVELESS Audra Loveless’ role has continued to change and evolve during her four years as a Gym’Back. She joined 10 other freshmen to start the program in 2003 and now stands at the head of the class as one of five seniors leading the team in 2006. Loveless is best know as a vaulter and floor worker for the Gym’Backs. She has posted her career-best 9.850 on the vault several times throughout her career and has a career-best 9.90 on the floor. One of the Gym’Backs’ best vaulters, Loveless has been a regular in the lineup again this year posting a season-best 9.80 on several occasions this season.
DANA McQUILLIN Dana McQuillin is one of the Gym’Backs’ top all-arounders, competing on each of the four events. She has competed for the all-around title in 35 of Arkansas’ 42 meets (through Penn State) and has won five individual all-around titles. One of the highlights of McQuillin’s career was advancing to the NCAA Championship in 2005. McQuillin was one of the top finishers at the NCAA East Regional becoming the first Gym’Back selected to the national championship. McQuillin holds seven of the top 10 all-around scores including her school record 39.500 set last year at No. 11 Denver. McQuillin ranks second on the beam with a 9.925, tied for fifth on vault with a 9.875, tied for fourth on bars with a 9.90 and is tied for sixth on floor with a 9.90. McQuillin’s academic commitment is second to none and her high level of achievement earned her the Southeastern Conference’s highest academic nomination – the SEC H. Boyd McWhorter Scholar Athlete nomination. McQuillin is a three-time member of the National Association of Collegiate Gymnastics Coaches for Women All-Scholar team. She has been on the University of Arkansas Women’s Athletics Department Honor Roll every semester and was a member of the Academic Champions list with a perfect 4.00 grade point average one semester. In addition, McQuillin is a two-time member of the Southeastern Conference Academic Honor Roll and a four-time member of the Bumpers College of Agriculture, Food and Life Sciences Honor Roll.
HANNAH McLEOD As a Gym’Back, Hannah McLeod has been a solid go-to competitor all four seasons. McLeod’s senior season began with some of the highest expectations ever placed on the four-year old program. The Gym’Backs expected big things from their senior leaders and the team was anxious to begin competition. The year opened in a six-team meet in Hawai’i and McLeod opened on the balance beam helping Arkansas to a third-place finish at the meet as the Gym’Backs defeated three other ranked teams, one of which was ranked higher than Arkansas. The Gym’Backs next traveled to No. 14 Missouri where McLeod found herself in both the uneven bars and balance beam lineup, positions she would hold for the next three meets. Recently, McLeod’s time has been limited to the bars and, under the newer, tougher scoring guidelines, she has posted a season-best 9.775 on bars.
ABOUT LAST WEEKThe 20th-ranked University of Arkansas gymnastics team notched its second consecutive Southeastern Conference win scoring 195.375 against Auburn (194.950) Friday in Barnhill Arena. Arkansas was solid throughout the meet clinching the win with the team’s third floor routine as the meet came down to the wire. The Gym’Backs collected three season bests and tied two others in the win. Freshman Breanne Guy posted a season/career-best with a 9.775 on the vault. Senior Katie Hardman set a season-best on the floor with a 9.825 and on beam with a 9.825. Junior Cassie Drew tied her season high on bars with a 9.8 as did junior Rachel Barnett on beam with a 9.775.
DREW SOLID IN ALL-AROUND ROLLCassie Drew was solid in Arkansas’ Southeastern Conference win over Auburn Friday. Drew led the Arkansas all-arounders scoring a 39.025 in the runner-up position. Drew opened with a 9.725 on vault and tied her season-best with a 9.80 on bars. Drew then posted a 9.750 on beam and matched that with a 9.750 on floor. The win over Auburn was the second consecutive win this year and the second SEC win for the Gym’Backs.
THE WIN AGAINST THE TIGERSArkansas got its first win at home this year against Kentucky, 196-350-196.250, in a meet that came down to the wire. Arkansas repeated the feat last week downing No. 13 Auburn, 195.375-194.950, in the second nail-bitter in as many weeks. The victory over Auburn is the fourth in program history and improves Arkansas to 4-3 all-time against the Tigers.
WIN/LOSS DOESN’T MATTER, BUT…Although a gymnastics teams win/loss record is not important, most teams will tell you it is important to defend your home gym. Arkansas is 10-16 all-time in Barnhill Arena. The Gym’Backs are 4-9 at home against SEC opponents and 7-7 against non-conference foes. The Gym’Backs’ four SEC wins have come against Kentucky (twice) and Auburn (twice).
TV TIME CONTINUESArkansas has been on television three times this year. First against Penn State when FOX 46/KPBI aired the event via tape delay. Arkansas was again on TV at Florida in an ESPN2 broadcast – the first national broadcast for the Gym’Backs. Arkansas returned to the airwaves against Kentucky as the SEC Meet of the Week. Last week’s event was televised by FSN and airs Saturday, March 4 at 5:00 p.m. Central on FSN. Arkansas meet with Auburn is also televised, this time by COX Sports. The meet airs Saturday, March 11, from 8:30-10:00 p.m.
ABOUT WASHINGTON The No. 36 Washington Huskies wrapped up their home season last weekend with a second-place finish in tri-meet action improving to 5-12 overall and 2-9 in the Pac-10. The Huskies scored a 48 or higher in all events for the first time this season en route to their second-best team total of the year a 193.300. The Huskies field a young team with one senior and three juniors this year.
ARKANSAS VERSUS WASHINGTONArkansas has had the advantage in the series winning both of the two previous meetings with Washington. The first win came in 2005 at a tri-meet when Arkansas out-scored Washington 195.550-195.275. The Huskies were ranked 19th in that meeting while Arkansas was No. 12. The Gym’Backs again defeated Washington this time in a six-team competition to open the year in Hawai’i. Arkansas finished third in the meet while the Huskies were fourth, 190-625-190.425.
SEC STRONG IN THE POLLThe Southeastern Conference is well represented in the most recent national poll with all seven teams ranked in the top 20. Georgia is the highest-ranked team checking in at No. 1 for the seventh consecutive week. Florida jumped over Alabama and is ranked second followed by the Crimson Tide at No. 3. LSU checks in at No. 7 while Auburn remains at No. 13. Kentucky and Arkansas round out the SEC in the polls ranking No. 18 and No. 20, respectively.
PEACOCK IN THE POLLSophomore Emily Peacock ranks tied for eighth this week on the uneven bars. Peacock is averaging 9.772 on the event with a season-high and school record 9.950 set against Kentucky in late February.
LOOKING AHEADArkansas is home for three in a row hosting Kentucky, Auburn and Washington before finishing the regular season at Nebraska.
ABOUT THE NCAA REGIONAL MEETArkansas hosts the South Central Regional meet April 8 at 6:00 p.m., in Barnhill Arena. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for youth and students. Please call the Lady Razorback Ticket Office at 57-LBACK for more information.