Gym'Backs To Host Big-Time Quad

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas' third-year gymnastics team will tune up for next week's Southeastern Conference Championships by playing host to a fun-filled quadrangular meet at 7 p.m. Saturday in Barnhill Arena.

The No. 14 Gym'Backs will welcome No. 3 Nebraska, No. 5 UCLA and No. 12 Oregon State in what should resemble a four-ring circus.

"The teams will rotate in Olympic order," said Arkansas co-coach Rene Cook. "I think quad meets are the most fun, because there's so much energy in the building all the time."

UCLA is the two-time defending national champion, Nebraska was ranked No. 2 last week and Oregon State narrowly outpointed Arkansas in a tri-meet in Seattle this year.

"These teams are ranked high, but it's no different from an Alabama (No. 4) or Georgia (No. 8) coming in here," Cook said. "In that regard, the SEC has been a great experience for our team."

Arkansas co-coach Mark Cook said this meet will hit close to home.

"I have a lot of deep admiration for UCLA," he said. "I was there for three years as an assistant coach."

Rene Cook said in the wake of Arkansas' home loss against No. 21 Missouri on Sunday, "We came out tight on vault. When you try to do something perfectly, you usually inhibit yourself and screw it up. We just need to go out aggressive and excited.

"We're going to have a good support group here on Saturday. The state meet is at Fayetteville High School, so those people should give us a lot of energy. We need to capitalize on that and go after it. This meet should prepare us for the SEC."

By resting freshmen Emily Peacock and Samantha Cortez for most of Sunday's meet, the Cooks hope they did not spoil the broth.

"Emily is back on the beam this week, but she's got to show me she can do it," Rene Cook said. "Her level of difficulty on balance beam should help us."

Peacock said Arkansas' recent lineup switches can be a positive.

"It keeps me on my toes and makes me want to do good in practice," she said.

UA junior co-captain Dana McQuillin had an uncharacteristic fall off the beam against Missouri, but it was Arkansas' only tumble and thus did not figure in the scoring.

Arkansas will begin on vault this week, then rotate to the uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise. UCLA will begin on bars, Nebraska on beam and Oregon State with floor exercise.

Lady Razorbacks softball coach Jamie Pinkerton had anticipated an early-morning temperature of 44 degrees on Wednesday, leading into Arkansas' scheduled home doubleheader against Stephen F. Austin.

Instead, it was a chilly 38 degrees in Fayetteville at 7:45 a.m.

The Lady'Backs entered the day 10-17 (0-6 SEC) while SFA went in 4-15.

Pinkerton had his team hit indoors on Tuesday in preparation for a three-game weekend series against Florida at Lady'Back Yard.

Rachel LeMaster leads Arkansas with a .366 batting average, followed by Ashley Carter at .301 and Shana Easley at .297 with a home run.

Valanna Lyons (6-10, 4.02 earned run average) of Murfreesboro, Tenn., has been the UA workhorse on the mound, but Pinkerton hoped to rest her some this week.

"Valanna has some tendinitis in her right shoulder from overuse," Pinkerton said. "We want her ready for Florida."

Meanwhile, Arkansas lefty pitcher Sarah Topham (1-2, 3.61) of Fort Worth, Texas, remains on the injury shelf with inflammation in her left (pitching) shoulder.

"Sarah is a week into rehab and obviously we need her," Pinkerton said. "Her inflammation is down a little. She's shooting for the Border War (games against Oklahoma State and Tulsa) on March 29, and I'm shooting for the series at Tennessee on April 2-3."

Arkansas freshmen Katy Henry (3-4, 3.93) and Kelly Ninemire (0-0, 6.07) have filled in gamely in the circle, but Pinkerton said, "They have to learn they can't hang pitches and miss spots in the SEC. There are five to seven SEC teams in the Top 25."

One of those is Florida, which got off to a 19-6 start and No. 15 ranking.

"Florida played very well in California, and they'll be the third straight SEC team to open conference play against us," Pinkerton said. "It's not getting any easier for us, but at least we're in a time when we play 21 of 28 games at home. We'll have to bring our 'A' game and fix some of our problems against Florida."

Pinkerton said Arkansas has played well defensively all season (.957 fielding percentage), but he said, "We've got to be smarter at the plate, in the pitches we go after. That discipline won't be learned overnight, but we still swing at bad pitches on 2-0."

Pinkerton preaches hitting the ball where it's pitched, and that philosophy paid off when Easley homered to right-center on an outside pitch recently.

"Shana told me it was only the second hit she's ever gotten to the opposite field," Pinkerton said.

Kudos to Arkansas freshman Stacy Lewis of The Woodlands, Texas, who has earned SEC Golfer of the Week honors the past two weeks.

Lewis was medalist with an 8-over-par 224 at the Betsy Rawls Longhorn Invitational last weekend at the University of Texas Golf Course in Austin where Arkansas finished fifth as a team.

The Lady'Backs are off this week, then compete March 25-27 in the Liz Murphey Collegiate Classic at the University of Georgia Golf Course in Athens.

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