Former Stanford Coaches Mark and RenÃ¯Â¿Â½ Cook Were Named Co-Head Coaches For Gymnastics At University of Arkansas
May 7, 2001
FAYETTEVILLE - Former Stanford University coaches Mark and Renï¿½ 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 Barnhill Arena.
Mark and Renï¿½ 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, Renï¿½ 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,' Renï¿½ 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 it done.'
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,' Renï¿½ 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,' Renï¿½ 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 and beam.
As the first assistant at Stanford, Renï¿½ 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, Renï¿½ 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, Renï¿½ 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.