FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Head coach Mark Cook and the University of Arkansas gymnastics team has released its schedule for the 2015 season.
This season’s schedule features five home meets and includes some of the country’s top gymnastics programs from a year ago, as they will face five of the six teams that competed in the NCAA Championships last season. The demanding schedule will be one of the most challenging in the nation this year, as six of the 11 opponents the Razorbacks will face this season ended the year ranked inside the top 20.
“This is how we’ve set up our schedule for the last 12 years,” said Cook of the challenging schedule. “The conference is absolutely brutal and we let our girls know that we have to be at the top of our game to be able to have the opportunity to upset one of these team’s will be facing this year that ranked higher than us last season.”
Arkansas will begin its season facing the defending NCAA Co-National Champion, Oklahoma University, as the team will travel to Norman, Okla., on Jan. 9. The Sooners finished the NCAA Super Six in a tie with Southeastern Conference foe Florida, whom the Razorbacks will also compete against on Feb. 6 in Barnhill Arena, as both teams scored 198.175.
“We are starting off with the national co-champion, which is a lofty challenge for the first meet of the season, but it allows us to set the tone for the season,” expressed Cook. “If we can go out there and be competitive with Oklahoma and put some pressure on them, then it really gains some a lot of respect for us nationally early in the season. We’ve been very competitive with them in years past, and it’s a good opportunity to see where we stand toe-to-toe with a defending national champion in the first meet.”
The Razorbacks will open the SEC portion of its schedule seven days after the Oklahoma meet, as they will host defending SEC Champion, Alabama. The Crimson Tide ended the season in the NCAA Super Six, where they placed fourth, however they finished the year No. 1 in the final rankings.
“It’s going to be interesting opening the SEC schedule with Alabama,” Cook said. “They have a new coaching staff after the retirement of Sarah Patterson, so it will be interesting to see if they will have an adjustment in coaching style and performances. That gives us an opportunity at home to compete against a program that has won seven national championships.”
After the Alabama meet, Arkansas will hit the road for back-to-back meets as they travel to Auburn University on Jan. 23 and Dallas, Texas for a neutral site meet against LSU on Jan. 31. The LSU meet will mark the third meet in the team’s first four that they will square-off with a team that made the NCAA Super Six.
The two-week stretch away from Barnhill will end on Feb. 6, as the Razorbacks will host NCAA Co-Champion, Florida. The Gators ended the season ranked No. 2 in the final rankings, and the meet will be the first of three home meets in a four week stretch.
“Florida gives us another meet to compete against a high-level opponent here at home. They are a team that we have upset in Barnhill before in the past, and gives our home fans a chance to see us compete against a defending national champion.”
Arkansas opens that stretch when they host its lone dual meet of the 2015 season on Feb. 13, as they host both Illinois State and Southeast Missouri State. After a trip to Kentucky on Feb. 20, the Razorbacks will conclude its three home meets in four weeks on Feb. 27 with an SEC contest against the University of Missouri.
“We host Illinois State and Southeast Missouri after the Florida meet, and that will give us a chance to regroup a bit if we have too. Then two weeks later Missouri will come in here, and they are trying to gain momentum into the conference, so they will come down here looking to knock us off to establish themselves in the SEC, so we have to be prepared for that.”
The Razorbacks will conclude the SEC portion of its regular season on March 7, as they will compete against another team who made the NCAA Super Six, Georgia. The Bulldogs finished fifth in last year’s NCAA Championship, as they posted a score of 197.050.
Arkansas brings the regular season to an end on March 13, as Pac-12 power UCLA travels to Barnhill Arena to give the Razorbacks one final test before the SEC Championships on March 21, which will be held in Duluth, Ga.
Two weeks after the SEC Championships will be the NCAA Regionals, which its location has yet to have been announced. The 2015 NCAA gymnastics season will come to a head on April 17, when the three-day NCAA Nationals open in Fort Worth, Texas.
Last season, the University of Arkansas gymnastics program earned its first-ever NCAA National Champion, as then senior Katherine Grable won the vault with a score of 9.975 and floor with a score 9.625. The team ended its 2014 team competition at the 2014 NCAA Regionals, when the Razorbacks finished third in the six-team event with a score of 196.375.
The Razorbacks will return a heap of talent, as nine letterwinners return, including 2012 All-American Stephani Canizaro and 2014 NCAA Championship competitor Amanda Wellick.
“We have a couple of kids who have competed at the NCAA Championship level before. But this year’s schedule will give some of our other athletes who have not yet competed on the championship level to elevate their mental game in going against some of the nation’s top teams,” exclaimed the head coach. “That should help us when the postseason comes, and really have us prepared for the SEC Championship, NCAA Regionals and NCAA Championship.”
For more information on Arkansas gymnastics, follow @RazorbackGym on Twitter.