Auburn Likely Seeking Revenge Against Gym'Backs

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas' No. 15 Gym'Backs take on No. 12 Auburn on Friday at Auburn, Ala., site of this year's national meet, in what promises to be a spirited competition.

Last year Arkansas upset Auburn in Fayetteville, 196.425 to 196.225, in a result questioned by Auburn's coaches. The Tigers no doubt remember.

Arkansas co-coach Mark Cook said, "We try not to put any added pressure on our team, but this does create a litle angst. It will measure our mental toughness."

UA co-coach Rene Cook added, "It adds a little grit to the competition."

Arkansas is without junior co-captain Hannah McLeod, who suffered a sprained ankle while training on the parallel bars last week and will miss the next two meets.

Friday's match will be televised by tape delay at 4 p.m. Jan. 29 by Fox Sports Net, but UA junior Audra Loveless said that wouldn't add to any pressure on the Gym'Backs.

"We're definitely doing better this year," Loveless said. "We have a lot more chemistry, and it's great fun. We've added a lot more difficulty to our routines, and other schools can see how much we've improved."

Rene Cook said the Gym'Backs will debut their "pretty new leotards (black with a red shine)" for the televised meet at Auburn.

The Razorback Invitational indoor track meet, set for Friday and Saturday in the Randal Tyson Track Center, will include the No. 2 LSU Lady Tigers.

Tennessee is ranked No. 1 by Trackwire, but Arkansas coach Lance Harter said, "LSU probably deserves to be No. 1, with South Carolina close behind them. Auburn could be a sleeper, too."

Harter said the "developmental" young Lady'Backs did well last week, but he said, "We'll be humbled by LSU, as will everybody else this week."

Freshman Paige Farrell of Springdale, one of 13 UA newcomers, ran a 54.95 in the 400 meters last week, outdoing senior Aneita Denton's 55.11.

Farrell also ran on a 4 x 400 relay that nearly matched last year's high-powered team, and will compete in that relay again, as well as running an 800-meter leg on a "low-key" distance medley relay this week.

"Paige has God-given talent, great speed and is very mature," Harter said. "She comes from a family that values athletics."

Farrell's parents, Robert and DeeGee Farrell of Springdale, met at the UA, where Robert was a wide receiver on the football team. Their son, Josh, plays on the UA golf team.

"Paige was highly recruited," Harter said. "It was by no means a slam dunk. She doesn't just have good talent and good looks. She's been to junior nationals and gotten good experience. It's great to have a folk hero from the local community."

Other teams competing this week include Kentucky, Ole Miss, Oklahoma State, ORU, Texas A&M and Tulsa. Women's events begin at 12:30 p.m. Friday and at 1 p.m. Saturday.

First-year UA softball coach Jamie Pinkerton said his team practiced 11 times in the first nine available days, including seven indoor workouts.

"Things are going really well," Pinkerton said. "We open Feb. 4 in a tournament at Cal Poly (in San Luis Obispo, Calif.)."

Holdover pitchers Valanna Lyons and Sarah Topham have looked good, as have 6-foot junior college transfer Linzee Roby and 6-foot freshman Kelly Ninemire of Prosper, Texas.

"Topham only gave up one hit in 18 innings in the fall," Pinkerton said. "She and Lyons will do much of the pitching at first, but if someone has a hot hand we'll go with the hot hand."

Stephanie Hunter, who sat out last season, returned in the fall to win the starting right fielder's job but has now accepted a business opportunity.

"Stephanie was a model citizen," Pinkerton said. "But she graduated in December and couldn't pass up this opportunity. She leaves with our blessing."

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