Georgia Presents Formidable Target For Gym'Backs

FAYETTEVILLE -- On paper, No. 6 Georgia should defeat No. 12 Arkansas when the two schools meet in gymnastics at 7 p.m. Friday in Barnhill Arena.

Georgia, the national runner-up last season, has averaged 195.500 points per meet this year, with a high of 195.850.

Arkansas, in just its third year of existence, has averaged a creditable 194.483 points per meet, with a high of 194.925.

"We know it will be a tough meet," said UA freshman all-around performer Samantha Cortez. "But we're all excited, and we're really prepared for it."

The Gym'Backs could threaten their home attendance record of 5,525, set during their first year of competition in 2003.

UA co-coach Mark Cook said, "We had an autograph signing at the Northwest Arkansas Mall last week, and we signed posters for tons of people. We had a good turnout for our Gym'Back Gala, too. The fans have had to wait awhile for our home opener, so we'll see."

Cook was asked to explain why he thought Arkansas ranked fourth nationally in home attendance the past two years.

"I just think it's a different experience for the crowd," he said. "There's both athleticism and artistry. Also, there's not a lot of down time during meets. Our women's athletic program does a great job with production and marketing."

Arkansas' win at Auburn last week, taped by Fox Sports Net, will be televised at 4 p.m. Saturday.

"I'll probably watch myself," Cortez said, grinning.

Both Arkansas and Georgia feature top freshmen.

Besides Cortez, the Gym'Backs call on freshmen Emily Peacock and Mallory Machnik.

Georgia boasts freshman all-around performers Katie Heenan and Sam Sheehan, both former World Championship medalists.

Saturday is Senior Day for the Arkansas swim team, which hosts Kansas at 1 p.m. in the UA Natatorium.

It's the last home meet for UA seniors Zsuzsa Csobanki, Whitney Lynn, Lisa Petry, Hannah Clegg and Anne Katherine Campbell.

"Zsuzsa had a pretty phenomenal workout on Tuesday," said Arkansas coach Anne Goodman James. "She's going to do some big stuff this season."

The Lady'Backs spent the five-week semester break training heavily, but in 10 days will drop the volume and intensity to begin tapering for the Southeastern Conference Meet at Gainesville, Fla., Feb. 11-13.

On Saturday, Arkansas will meet a Kansas team that typically peaks for the Lady'Backs.

"Every time they swim against us, they come up with some good times," James said. "This is a big meet for Kansas, and a good rivalry."

Amy Gruber, KU's ace in the 50 and 100 freestyle sprints, will oppose Csobanki in those races."

Admission is free for the 90-minute meet. Those wishing to arrive early for the Kentucky-UA men's basketball game at 2:30 p.m. might want to secure a parking spot and then watch some swimming at the HPER Building, near Bud Walton Arena.

Parking will also be at a premium for the Oral Roberts-Arkansas women's tennis match at 2 p.m. Saturday, since some UA basketball fans use the Dills Indoor Tennis Center lot.

Lady'Backs tennis coach Michael Hegarty invites hoops earlybirds to watch his No. 63 team in its home debut against ORU.

With nine SEC tennis teams in the women's Top 50 and seven in the Top 25, the Lady'Backs have their work cut out for them.

"We finished last year at No. 67, but I think we might finish a little higher than people expect," Hegarty said. "We're in a much better position than a year ago, with better depth and health."

While not great at the top of the singles lineup, Arkansas has eight players capable of winning, Hegarty said.

"Our strength is depth," he said.

Currently battling for the UA No. 1 singles spot are 5-foot-6 freshman Maryori Franco of Barranquilla, Colombia, and 5-6 sophomore Vlatka Jovanovic of Zagreb, Croatia.

Arkansas has five America players, including 5-11 junior Melissa Cornett of Little Rock and walk-on Allison Linden of Highland Village, Texas, plus four international players.

"That's the way college tennis is going," Hegarty said. "While U.S. tennis stays the same, other countries are getting much stronger."

Hergarty, a native of Australia, said that Russia has by far the strongest youth tennis program these days.

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