2009 ARKANSAS RAZORBACKS GYMNASTICS
The Arkansas women's gymnastics program is, by any measure imaginable, a fledgling one. It is the youngest program of its kind in the Southeastern Conference. Mark and Rene Cook were brought to the University of Arkansas with one simple task before them. Build a gymnastics program at the University of Arkansas from the ground up, and turn them into, first a competent team, then a competitive team, and then hopefully, ultimately, a championship caliber team.
When the Cooks arrived at the University of Arkansas, gymnastics was a distant afterthought on the state's sports landscape, and a big part of what the Cooks were asked to do upon their arrival was, in addition to recruiting players, was to, essentially, build a program through recruiting community support. To that end, a large part of what the Cooks did upon their arrival at the University of Arkansas was to reach out to the local communities of Razorbacks supporters in hopes of providing them with a little bit of an education in what gymnastics was, and what a good team could mean for the University. They wanted to build a ready-made following. And to a large extent, they succeeded.
The Cooks were also involved intimately in building, again, from scratch, the practice facilities that their teams would take advantage of when preparing for meets. They were in charge of determining exactly what equipment would be used in the gyms, and in fact, they even took part in its assembly. And they managed to do all of this while doing their other job�. That other job involved spending hours, days, and weeks scouring and scouting and recruiting the best gymnasts they could find, and trying to convince each and every one of them to take a chance, sight unseen, on the new gymnastics program being developed at the University of Arkansas.
Things were rocky at first. The 2003 season saw a number of growing pains for the Arkansas women's gymnastics team. The team finished the year 5-14-1, a record which would have many coaches frustrated and looking for answers. But the Cooks viewed the season as a success in that they knew. The building of the program would take time. They had managed to recruit an entire class of young talent, talent which would only improve as time wore on. And indeed, even despite that less than stellar record, the team managed to have some fine wins, including winning a big quad meet over a number of teams including SEC rival Kentucky.
However, things took a turn for the better relatively quickly for Arkansas women's gymnastics. In 2004, the team took a big step forward. Its overall record was still only 11-14, but in the competitive world of women's gymnastics, that record was good enough for an NCAA regional appearance, and a national top 20 ranking. And 2005 brought a season very similar to that of 2004.
2006 represented a big step forward for the Arkansas women's gymnastics team. It was in that season that the team made its first NCAA Championships. And while its performance at those proceedings were not up to par with what the Cooks would have hoped for, again, it was a step forward for the program and the season, despite an overall record skewed by a poor performance in the NCAAs, was a success overall.
Arkansas women's gymnastics has a long way to go to catch up to the SEC elite. But it's come so far so fast, there is little reason to doubt that the ascent is possible.
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