FAYETTEVILLE – The 11th-ranked University of Arkansas gymnastics team hosts No. 15 Michigan State as the Gym’Backs celebrate senior night with the final home meet of the season this Friday at 7 p.m. at Barnhill Arena.
Seniors Samantha Cortez and Emily Peacock compete in Barnhill for the final time in their careers leading the Gym’Backs in the final tune-up before the Southeastern Conference Championship in Georgia next weekend.
“It’s always bittersweet,” said co-head coach Mark Cook. “It’s sad that it’s the final time but it is also a celebration of all of their accomplishments. It’s a way to honor them.”
“Emily and Sam have contributed both athletically and personally to the program and that is immeasurable,” added co-head coach Rene Cook. “We are going to enjoy the moment with them.”
In addition to the senior celebration, Arkansas will be looking for another good score as they meet the Spartans for the first time in program history.
“MSU is ranked pretty high and they’ll come in here wanting to knock off an SEC team,” said Mark Cook. “We’ll need our senior leadership to step up and help us.”
Michigan State has been climbing the rankings since the start of the season making their way to No. 15 this week. The Spartans have been as high as No. 14 for two weeks before sliding to No. 15 this week after a loss to Auburn. MSU also has losses to Michigan and LSU, both of whom the Gym’Backs have faced. Sophomore Rochelle Robinson had one of her most well-rounded performances of the season against Auburn. She won or had a share of first place in three events – vault, bars and floor – and placed second in the all-around.
In addition to the senior leadership, the Gym’Backs will rely on the balanced attack that has been successful all year. That balance has seen steady improvement in both individual and team scores all season.
“The entire team has continued to gain confidence with each meet throughout the year,” said Rene Cook. “They know they can handle any challenge that might be in front of them. The team has really tried to be more aggressive since the Georgia meet and it’s really shown in the recent scores.”
Arkansas tied the then-season-best with a 196.425 winning the UCLA Quad and tied the school record last weekend with a 196.625 against No. 9 Oklahoma.
“We are again shooting for a top score,” Rene Cook continued. “To be in the top 10 is a program goal and right now we would be the second highest seeded team in our regional. That’s a program first.”
“Our job is not to relax,” added Mark Cook. “We want to not only get the win over Michigan State but to move up in the rankings. Every time we compete, we view it as competing against the nation, not just the other team in the gym.”
This is the final home meet of the 2008 season but the Gym’Backs have plenty left on their schedule. Arkansas travels to Duluth, Ga., for the SEC Championship March 29. They follow up with an NCAA Regional appearance at one of six possible sites April 12, and hope for a possible NCAA Championship appearance April 24-26, in Athens, Ga.
For more information about Arkansas gymnastics, please log on to LADYBACKS.COM. For tickets for the final meet, please call the Razorback Ticket Office at 57-LBACK.