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Gymnastics team rallying around assistant coaches Dickerson, Hite

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4395580.jpegSometimes it takes a little adversity to turn things around.

In the Kentucky gymnastics team's case, it's making the most of a situation that could fracture a lot of teams.

After seven seasons, the school and longtime head coach Mo Mitchell parted ways about three months ago. With the season just around the corner, instead of hiring a new head coach during the middle of preseason preparations, Kentucky elected to stick with its two assistant coaches, Chuck Dickerson and Heater Hite, to run the squad in 2010-11.

The situation has been unique. Neither are the official head coaches, but both are sharing head-coaching duties, managing the day-to-day operations of the team, practices, matches, recruiting, etc., as any other head coach would.

"It's been a learning curve how to go about everything, but we've learned a lot," Hite said. "I think that's a great thing. It's given us an opportunity to see what goes into the program and how much goes into the gymnastics alone."

Where one head coach and two assistants used to run things, it's down to two assistants for this year as Hite and Dickerson split the duties. The key, both have said, has been organization.

Everything, from practices to recruiting to budget meetings and e-mails, has been split up between the two. Dickerson has taken more of a leadership role in the gym while Hite has dealt with more of the paperwork and the behind-the-scenes work.

"It's been trying at times," Dickerson said. "Having two coaches instead of three has been a little different. But it's been good. What's made the transition good is the kids. They've accepted it and moved forwarded and stayed together as a tight unit. That's actually made the transition pretty easy."

And that, more than anything, is the biggest story as the UK gymnastics team heads into its annual Excite Night, the season-opening event for the Cats. When Kentucky hosts Illinois and Northern Illinois on Saturday in front of an expected crowd of a few thousand, it won't be as a splintered team without a head coach or leadership.

Instead, the team fans will see Saturday, as Hite and Dickerson tell it, will be a unit that's rallied around adversity; that has fused in a difficult situation and formed a strong, more unified leadership core.

"It was tough, but the kids made the transition easy," Dickerson said. "They came in and said let's stay together as a team and let's fight and let's work and get this thing done. ... Sometimes it takes a bad situation to make a good situation. I feel like they've got more heart than any team we've had here. Sometimes when things happen out of the blue that you don't expect to happen, it can bring a team together, and I think it has."

The biggest challenge for the two assistant coaches has been practice. In most college gyms, the team is split up into three groups with each coach presiding over an event. With only two coaches now in the mix, they've had to split up into two groups of more performers and make the most it.

"We wanted it to be run and organized the way if there was a third person here," Hite said. "Our whole goal was to make it for the girls and show the administration that we are capable of getting everything done. We knew from the very beginning that we were willing to do whatever we had to do, however we had to split it up to get things done."

3602357.jpegTurning a difficult situation into a positive happened pretty fast thanks to captains Whitney Rose and Storey Morris.

"Obviously it affected them some, but they decided they're not just here for us coaches," Dickerson said. "They're here for the University of Kentucky and they're here for each other and God has them here for a reason. They brushed themselves off and got after it."

Rose made it to nationals last year as an individual performer in the vault. Hite and Dickerson are hoping Rose's experience will pay dividends for this year's squad.

"We're hoping she blazed a trail for us last year," Dickerson said. "We've got to get to nationals. She got there last year, and when she came back, she sat the team down and said, 'Listen, I just paved the way for us as a group.' "

The Cats welcome seven freshmen that will see some time in a few events, but by and large, the veterans - four seniors and two juniors - will be the core performers. Unlike past years where UK has struggled a bit on the beam and bars, Hite anticipates a pretty consistent team.

Rose is fully healthy for the first time, Andrea Mitchell is in her fourth year of doing the all-around and UK is expected to do riskier routines this year, which will pay dividends if the team can execute them.

The goal this year is to make a leap in the Southeastern Conference. The Cats annually contend for a top-25 ranking but have struggled in the nation's best league. A jump in the conference would place the program among the nation's best.

"If we could go fourth or fifth in the SEC, that's great," Hite said. "If we could higher than that, that's icing on the cake. That's our ultimate goal is to make a jump in the SEC. If you're jumping up in the SEC, you're anywhere from 18th to 12th in the nation."

As for the future of Hite and Dickerson after this season, they want to be at Kentucky. As a former gymnast (Hite) and a longtime assistant (Dickerson), both have remained adamant that Kentucky is where they want to be in the future and admitted that this year is a quasi audition.

Hite is just two years removed from being on the team and is in her second year as an assistant, but that doesn't mean she doesn't have aspirations for being a head coach. The current situation she's in gives her a great chance to prove herself.

"She's done well," Dickerson said. "I've watched her grow up a lot this year as a coach. She's become more of a mentor to the girls."

Hite said she's still learning a "ton," but fortunately she has a longtime veteran in Dickerson to lean on.

"He's my biggest fan and just pushes me along," Hite said. "We live maybe five feet apart from each other, so I'm always going over and knocking on the door and saying, 'OK, how did this go today? Is this OK?' "

Coaching futures aside, the focus as Excite Night and the 2011 season looms, both for the coaches and UK's administration, is on the success of this year's team.

The players and assistants have done all the right things and come together in a difficult situation. They've rallied around one another and put together what they say is one of their strongest preseasons in years (UK is ranked No. 24 to start the year).

Now the question is how they will perform on the big stage. Everyone is anxious to find out.

"What are they going to do?" Hite said. "Are they going to go out there and be nervous or are they going to go out there and kick butt? That's what I'm waiting on. I'm waiting on to see how they handle the pressure and the season."

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What happened to Whitney Rose? Why can't I find any information regarding the injury she sustained that was shown on the Big Ten channel? Her left knee looked to be horribly injured. As she is landing at the end of her tumbling pass, if you watch in slow motion, you can see her knee morphing into horrifyingly abnormal shapes and positions with dents and weird bending angles. I really would like to know if she is okay! I don't understand why there isn't any information for people that are huge fans of these tremendously brave and talented young women. I am so worried about her and I was crying when she was hurt. Now I don't know what to do? Do you think she will be all right or was that a career ending injury? I am beside myself with worry! Please help! Could you please post an article regarding her condition? Thank you so much and may God bless you!

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  • Eric Lindsey: HugeFan, Rose tore both her ACL and MCL in the meet against LSU. It is not expected to be career read more
  • HugeFan: What happened to Whitney Rose? Why can't I find any information regarding the injury she sustained that was shown on read more