Gym'Backs ease into first official practice

FAYETTEVILLE — The University of Arkansas gymnastics team officially opened the 2004-05 season with their first practice in the Bev Lewis Center for Women’s Athletics Thursday. The Gym’Backs participated in voluntary workouts along with strength and conditioning since the start of the semester. They officially returned to the gym as a team without much fanfare. "We’re excited to get started," said co-head coach Rene Cook. "The team has been working really hard on improving our overall strength since last year. The skill level of the team has definitely improved from last season and we’re all excited and motivated to get started." The Gym’Back add a new element to the team this year – upperclassmen. The Gym’Backs have their first juniors this year in Katie Hardman, Kim Harris, Melissa Leigh, Audra Loveless, Hannah McLeod and Dana McQuillin. Arkansas also returns a strong sophomore class including Rachel Barnett, Jamie Burnette, Cassie Drew and Kathy Thompson. The returns welcome three newcomers this year, all of whom figure to compete for time for Arkansas. They are Samantha Cortez of Verona, N.J., Mallory Machnik of Monroe, La., and Emily Peacock of San Antonio, Texas. "Our newcomers have adjusted well to college life and to collegiate gymnastics," said Cook. "I think they will all make their mark on our young program." The Lady Razorbacks open the 2004-05 season with the Gym’Back Gala, Jan. 2, followed by three road meets in a row. Arkansas first home competition is Jan. 28, when they welcome Georgia to Barnhill Arena. For more information about Arkansas gymnastics or to purchase tickets please call the Lady Razorback Ticket Office at 57-LBACK or log on to