Cooks earn SEC Coach of the Year honors; Arkansas sixth overall

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DULUTH, Ga. – The 11th-ranked University of Arkansas gymnastics team scoring a 194.650 finishing sixth at the Southeastern Conference Championships in Duluth, Ga., Saturday, while co-head coaches Mark and Rene Cook tied for SEC Coach of the Year honors.

The Cooks earned their first league honor tying with Auburn’s Jeff Thompson and Georgia’s Suzanne Yoculan for coach of the year.

“It’s a huge honor to be recognized by your peers for this award,” said Rene Cook. “It definitely makes you feel good for all of the hard work you do.”

Arkansas battled back for a strong finish on beam and floor but couldn’t overcome low scores on the vault and bars to open the meet.

“This is the most pressure-filled meet of the season,” said Cook, “even more than the national championships. The pressure to perform is huge. It’s exciting but the emotions are tough to control. Obviously we extremely disappointed but we were happy to finish strong on the last two events. We have a lot of work to do before regionals.”

In one of the closest meets in recent memory, coming down to the wire between the top teams. Top-ranked Georgia hung on for the win edging No. 3 Florida and No. 6 Alabama who tied for second. The Gym Dogs score 197.350, just better than the runners-up with 197.325. Fifth-ranked LSU finished fourth overall with a 196.50, followed by No. 13 Auburn at 196.10. Arkansas managed a 194.650 edging No. 20 Kentucky who counted a 194.025.

Sophomore Michelle Stout led Arkansas in the all-around with a 39.075 followed by sophomore Casey Jo Magee with a 38.675.

Arkansas opened the contest on the vault after drawing one of the more favorable rotation orders for the meet. Junior Alexandra LaChance kicked things off with a solid 9.725 but a fall by the next competitor could have rattled the Gym’Backs.

But it didn’t. Sophomore Amy DeFilippo scored a 9.675 followed by a 9.625 from senior Samantha Cortez with tight scoring in the first rotation. Arkansas finished with back-to-back 9.80s from sophomores Stout and Sarah Nagashima as the Gym’Backs settled into the long meet.

The Gym’Backs had a bye in the second rotation using the time to regroup in the locker room. Meanwhile, the Georgia-friendly crowd cheered the Gym Dogs to a 49.325 on floor in the first rotation as the top-ranked team in the country took an early lead.

DeFilippo led off for Arkansas on the bars after the bye. She executed a nearly flawless routine scoring a 9.70 getting things started.

The number two spot in the lineup was again problematic for Arkansas with a fall but senior Emily Peacock picked up her teammate with a solid routine and stuck landing garnering a 9.70.

Stout posted a 9.75 and Magee added a 9.80 helping Arkansas to a 47.95 for the event. The Gym’Backs did not get a break going directly to beam in the fourth rotation.

Senior Samantha Cortez led off with a 9.75 for Arkansas and DeFilippo followed with a 9.775. The confidence in the beam rotation continued to climb with Peacock scoring a 9.85. That mark ties Arkansas’ best beam performance at the SEC Championship.

Stacy Bartlett, the Gym’Backs lone freshman, came through in the biggest meet of her career adding a 9.80 as Arkansas put together a one of their best beam scores in recent meets. Magee rounded out the Arkansas scoring tying Peacock with a 9.85 leading the Gym’Backs to a 49.025. That score is the Gym’Backs second-best beam total at the SEC Championships.

Arkansas had a bye in the fifth rotation returning to the arena where the Gym’Backs finished on the floor exercise. Nagashima competed first turning in an up-beat, clap-along routine that scored a 9.75 getting Arkansas started. Stout matched Nagashima’s energy with a solid performance for a 9.80.

The scores continued to climb for Arkansas as Magee added a 9.825 and LaChance counted a 9.80 for the Gym’Backs. Seniors Cortez and Peacock anchored the floor with Cortez getting a 9.80 and Peacock finishing with a 9.825 for a 49.050 on the floor.

Arkansas awaits word of an NCAA Regional selection which is scheduled to be announced late afternoon Monday. Saturday’s SEC Championships air on FSN Sunday, April 6, at 3:00 p.m