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Rose representing more than herself at nationals

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GYM 09_10 UK Regional Web 55.jpgOne run, one vault, one landing. That's all Whitney Rose gets. That's the only chance she will have to represent the Kentucky gymnastics team.

As the lone athlete to qualify for nationals, Rose will have the honor -- or burden -- of carrying the Wildcat torch in this weekend's NCAA Championships. UK failed to qualify as a team after finishing fifth at the NCAA Lexington Regional, but Rose qualified on the vault with a 9.9 performance two weekends ago in Memorial Coliseum.

When Rose steps onto the floor Thursday in Gainesville, Fla., she will shoulder the eyes and the pressure of UK's first national championship appearance since Krystle Cook made it in 2006.

Most people would wilt under the pressure. Rose relishes in it.

"It is more of an honor than pressure," Rose said. "My best vault was at regionals and it was because I kind of knew we were finished as a team. I also wanted to finish strong, so it was less pressure. That is how my mindset is going to be at nationals, that there is nothing to really lose. I'm just going there to honor UK."

During regionals at UK's Memorial Coliseum on April 10, Rose carried Kentucky's national championship appearance hopes on her back. On the last rotation of the evening, the chance for the team to place second and advance to the final meet of the season was bleak.

It was UK's last chance to send somebody to nationals. Rose nailed it with a near-perfect effort.

A similar situation will present itself this weekend in the Sunshine State, but Rose and head coach Mo Mitchell are looking at it is an opportunity for the entire team.

"My goal is to get the team to go," Mitchell said. "We really felt like we had a shot to get the team to go. It just didn't pan out for us this year. The great thing is she gets to set the path work. When she gets back, she can explain to them, 'Guys, this is where we want to go. We need to be there as a team.' That's why this is so important."

Rose, calling it the biggest meet of her life, described it as opening the door for next year's team.

"When we come home, she's going to be able to explain that whatever it takes, we need to do this," Mitchell said. "That's what it's all about. It's about making the NCAA Championships. It's not just about regionals. I've been there and I say it all the time, but to have their own peer there to experience it will be huge for us."

Rose has been a big-time athlete since arriving at Kentucky two seasons ago. As a freshman, Rose did not disappoint, earning Southeastern Conference Freshman honors for only the fifth time in school history.

"I didn't know that I was that respected in the SEC, but it did build my confidence," Rose said. "It gave me more voice on the team. They respected me more."

Although a back injury has plagued her this season, Rose has stuck a 9.900 or better on vault six times this year.

Before practice Monday, one of UK's athletic trainers described her as the John Wall of gymnastics. Mitchell had no qualms with that assessment because she doesn't settle for mediocrity. Although a lot of college athletes have the raw ability and talent to be stars, Rose doesn't rest on it.

"Her consistency level has been tenfold," Mitchell said. "Her confidence has been up there and her expectation level has been up there. That's why she's going to nationals is because she expects to go. That's the biggest difference. Last year she was a wide-eyed, bushy-tailed freshman who didn't know where she was going or how she was going to get there. This year she was more focused."

Rose will make her national championship appearance Thursday at 7 p.m. in the in the second of two semifinal runs. The top four from each session in each event (plus ties) from the preliminary runs will advance to Saturday's finals. Also, the top 16 performers from each event are named All-America.

All that riding on a run, a vault and a landing. It's a lot of pressure in just a few split seconds, but it's one Rose has mastered over the course of the season.

"You have to have the ability to say, 'I can do this in my sleep,' " Mitchell said. "The bottom line is her vault is great. It's going to come down whether she sticks it or not."

There isn't as much thinking involved as say the floor exercise, but that's what makes the vault even more demanding.

"In vault, I'm more or less trying to be as strong and as powerful as I can be and it's over with like that," Rose said. "I just want to be explosive."

Mitchell and assistant coach Heather Hite had a meeting with Rose early Monday afternoon, not to discuss this weekend's big meet but to talk about the opportunity at hand for next season.

Rose, who Mitchell said will be next year's captain, has the opportunity to set a precedent for her team at nationals and show them what it takes to get there. Mitchell no doubt wants her to perform well and earn individual honors, but he's more concerned with how she handles the big stage and how she will take the next step for next season's team.

"What are you going to do? How are you going to lead us? What is your mindset?" Mitchell asked Rose.

She hopes to answer it by sticking it again.

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Go Whit! So Proud of you! We are confident you will REPRESENT and REPRESENT WELL!! Congratulations!!
The Skinner Bunch - Tony, Vanessa, Alexandra, and Landon

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