FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Being in the most competitive gymnastics conference in the country is certainly challenging, but head coach Mark Cook and Arkansas gymnastics can’t wait for that challenge in 2016. Cook and the Razorbacks have released their 2016 schedule, which includes meets against seven SEC members, an exciting home matchup against Oklahoma and a non-conference trip to Maryland.
But to open the year, you could say the team is starting with a splash. The Razorbacks’ 11-meet regular season begins with a trip to Cancun, Mexico, for the Cancun Classic on Jan. 2. The competition will also include Big Ten Conference members Iowa and Michigan, among others.
“We went to this competition four years ago with LSU and some other teams and we won to start off the season,” Cook explained. “That really set the tone for the year and we are hoping for the same thing with this Cancun Classic meet.”
After the Cancun Classic, Arkansas has a one-week break before the team has a busy opening weekend at Barnhill Arena. The Razorbacks host their first meet on Jan. 15 when Georgia comes to Fayetteville. The Bulldogs edged the visitors last year in Athens, Ga., 196.650-196.775. So this year, Arkansas looks to return the favor as hosts.
The most intriguing non-conference matchup of the season comes only two days later, as the Razorbacks host Oklahoma on Jan. 17. The Sooners were runners-up to national champion Florida in 2015.
“That’s going to be an exciting back-to-back weekend having an SEC school and then having OU,” Cook said. “I expect it to be a really good non-conference competition.”
Two other SEC opponents come to Fayetteville: Auburn on Jan. 29 and Kentucky on Feb. 26. Utah State, of the Mountain Rim Gymnastics Conference, also visits Barnhill this season, rounding out the regular season with a meet on March 11 that will serve as Arkansas’ Senior Night.
The Razorbacks begin their road SEC schedule with Alabama on Jan. 22. Last season, Arkansas clinched an exciting 196.275-196.175 victory over the No. 6 Crimson Tide at Barnhill. Other SEC road meets include trips to LSU on Feb. 5, Florida on Feb. 12 and Missouri on March 4.
Arkansas travels to College Park, Maryland, for the first time in program history on Feb. 19 or 20 (depending on the pending Big Ten basketball schedule), to take on the Terrapins. The Razorbacks are 2-0 all time against Maryland, with both victories coming during the 2012 season.
Overall, Arkansas will face seven of the 12 teams who made it to the 2015 NCAA Championship. With 11 returners, including All-SEC Team selections Heather Elswick, Amanda Wellick and Paige Zaziski, the Razorbacks are as ready as ever to make a strong postseason push.
The always-exciting 2016 SEC Championships are in Little Rock on March 19. At the 2015 SEC Championships in Duluth, Ga., Arkansas finished in sixth place out of eight with a score of 195.900.
“We are really excited to have the SEC Championships back at Little Rock,” Cook said. “It will be crucial to have the home crowd cheering for us.”
Next up would be NCAA Regionals on April 2, which will be held at one of six on-campus locations throughout the country. Last year, the Razorbacks competed in the Morgantown, West Virginia, regional with the host Mountaineers and four other teams. Arkansas finished in fourth place out of six with a score of 196.500; their third-best team effort of the season.
The NCAA Championships will take place in Fort Worth, Texas, from April 15-17 at the Fort Worth Convention Center.
For more information on Arkansas gymnastics, follow @RazorbackGym on Twitter.