Opening act puts Southeast gymnasts on brink of top 25

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Redhawks' score posted in an upset of Kentucky has the squad ranked 27th nationally.

Southeast Missouri State women's gymnastics coach Tom Farden was hopeful that his team would break into this week's top 25.

The Redhawks barely missed out when the national rankings were announced Monday, but Farden figures their No. 27 position is not bad -- for now.

"It's a good place to start, but I'm our worst critic," said a laughing Farden. "We have a lot of room for improvement."

The Redhawks began the season Friday night by upsetting Kentucky, which entered the dual match at Houck Field House ranked 18th nationally.

Southeast posted a 192.625 to 191.875 victory.

"To be able to take down a team like that, from the SEC and ranked in the top 20, was such a high for our student-athletes," Farden said.

Unlike some other sports, the national gymnastics rankings are based solely on scores.

After this week, the Redhawks will be rated on their average scores.

While Farden said it's nice to be ranked fairly high now, and the Redhawks hope to crack the top 25 soon, he emphasized that the key is to finish the year in the top 36.

That would mean a berth in an NCAA regional, as 36 squads make the cut.

Southeast qualified in 2006 for the first time since 1997. Last year the Redhawks narrowly missed a team regional berth, although they did qualify four individuals.

"You want to be in that top 36 to make the postseason," he said.

Still, making the top 25 would be an achievement for the Redhawks, who at one point last season were No. 22 for the program's highest ranking in more than a decade.

"One of our goals is to break into the top 25," Farden said. "I believe we have the caliber of athlete to be a top 25 team, and even a top 15 type of team."

Florida is ranked first with an average score of 196.975, while No. 25 is Iowa at 192.675.

The Redhawks will have an opportunity to raise their average Friday night when Illinois State visits Houck Field House for a 7 p.m. meet.

Illinois State is ranked 37th with an average score of 191.037.

"They're a much improved team," Farden said. "It should be a good meet and hopefully we can build on our opening score."

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