May 7, 2001
FAYETTEVILLE - Former Stanford University coaches Mark
and René Cook were named the co-head coaches of the inaugural University
of Arkansas women's gymnastics team on Monday, May 7.
The Cooks were introduced by Women's Athletics
Director Bev Lewis at a press conference in the Lady Razorback Museum at
Mark and René become the first co-head coaches
at the University of Arkansas, a decision that Lewis thinks will give the
fledgling Lady Razorback program a distinct advantage.
"We believe that we have found the perfect combination
for the University of Arkansas," Lewis said. "During my background work
in the fall, René and Mark's name kept coming up among other coaches and
athletic administrators. Everyone I asked said that they were two of the
best coaches in the country, and that they were quality people who took
care of their athletes."
The Cooks are charged with building the 11th
varsity sport for women at the University of Arkansas, and the first Division
I women's gymnastics program started in years. Following the same formula
used in the 1990s to produce Southeastern Conference champion and NCAA qualifying teams, Arkansas gives the Cooks a full year to put the program in place,
including an inaugural recruiting class. The first Lady Razorback gymnastics
event will take place in January 2003.
"This is an exciting opportunity to build a program
not only for this university, but for the sport itself," René said. "With
the support in the Women's Athletics Department and the community, we hope
that Arkansas gymnastics will be successful and exciting."
"We want take upon ourselves the awesome task
of developing a unique program from scratch and to build it into one of
the top teams in the country," Mark said. "It's a big task but we can get
The Cooks led Stanford to its first Pac-10 championship
in women's gymnastics in 1998 and repeated the feat in 2001, and Mark was
honored by his peers as the 2001 Pac-10 and NCAA West Region Coach of the
Year. Under the Cooks' tutelage, the Cardinal had its first national champion
gymnast, Larissa Fontaine in the vault in 1997. The Cooks' have sent athletes
to the NCAA Championships all four seasons including two team appearances,
and have had athletes reach the awards stand all four seasons. In addition
to its 2001 conference title, Stanford barely missed the Super Six this
past April with a eighth-place team finish at the 2001 event in Georgia.
One of the more attractive parts of the program
was the opportunity to have a hand in the design of a new practice facility.
"The sport has grown over the past years and
the training aparatus are so specialized," Mark said. "Safety is a major
concern, and building it from the ground up is the only way to insure that."
Another part of the package for the Cooks was
the chance to compete in the Southeastern Conference.
"The SEC is a very competitive conference and
has tremendous enthusiasm for all sports, particularly gymnastics," René
said. "Starting a program in the SEC lends us the opportunity to raise the
level of gymnastics in this country."
The Cooks hope that Arkansas' program can be
a focal point for lifting the sport within the state as well.
"There are a number of clubs in this state, and
I feel that this program will help the development of more clubs," Mark
said. "We hope to give gymnastics across the state a boost by the development
of this program. It may motivate people to start new clubs and young athletes
to find a way to college."
The first recruiting class is one of the Cooks'
top priorities, with the initial date for contact with prospective athletes
for the freshman class of 2002 coming up on July 1.
"The surrounding areas have a lot of talent in
Texas, Oklahoma and Missouri, but there are lots of young women across the
country that want to continue their gymnastics career by going to college,"
René said. "We plan to recruit nationwide."
The Cooks produced Stanford's only NCAA Regional
champions as well, picking up four in their four seasons with the Cardinal.
Stanford enjoyed success in the classroom as well, with 14 Scholastic All-America
selections and 17 selections to the Pac-10 All-Academic Team during the
Cooks' time in Palo Alto.
Stanford reset every all-time top performance
under the Cooks, both team and individual. All four of the 10.000 performances
recorded by Cardinal gymnasts came under the Cooks' direction.
The Cooks had an immediate impact when they arrived
at Palo Alto in 1998, leading Stanford to its first Pac-10 title and first
individual NCAA title with Fontaine. The next season the Cardinal ranked
as high as eighth in the national polls before finishing tied for 10th at
the NCAA Championships with four all-Americans.
In 2000, the Cooks sent two individuals to the
NCAA Championships who garnered three all-America honors, Katy Herbert first-team
all-America on balance beam and Jennifer Exaltacion second-team in all-around
As the first assistant at Stanford, René Cook
was in charge of choreography and balance beam for the Cardinal. One of
her top seasons came this spring as Lindsay Wing was the NCAA runner-up
on the balance beam and in 2000 with two of her beam athletes making all-America
honors. The past three consecutive seasons Rene Cook as produced NCAA Regional
champions on the beam. Before moving to Stanford as the assistant coach,
René Cook was the assistant coach at Penn State for the 1997 season. She
helped the Lady Lions to the NCAA Northeast Region title and an 11th-place
finish at the NCAA Championships. Cook had a pair of all-Americans while
coaching at her alma mater, Missy Leopoldus on the vault and Ellen Casey
on the floor. She had worked for three seasons as the assistant coach at
the University of Massachusetts prior to Penn State. At UMass, she was responsible
for balance beam and assisting with recruiting. It was at UMass that she
coached her first NCAA qualifier and NCAA Regional champion on the beam,
JJ Tolhurst, and helped lead UMass to the 1996 Atlantic-10 team title. The
former Rene Lyst was herself a regional and conference champion on the beam,
taking the 1992 Big 10 balance beam title as a member of the Penn State
team. Co-captain of the Lady Lion team as a senior and the 1993 Northeast
Regional beam champion, she led Penn State to a fourth place finish at the
1992 NCAA Championships as a junior. Her sophomore season, René set the
PSU school record on the beam with a 9.90 on the way to her first regional
beam title in 1991 and the Lady Lions finished fifth at NCAAs. Her freshman
and sophomore seasons, she was Atlantic-10 all-conference.