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Excite Night indeed: Harrison takes all-around in historic gymnastics victory

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Audrey Harrison earned the all-around title in Friday's 195.5-193.075 victory over Arkansas. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Audrey Harrison earned the all-around title in Friday's 195.5-193.075 victory over Arkansas. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Last weekend, the No. 14 ranked Kentucky gymnastics team did something it had not done since 1996 when it defeated Auburn. This weekend, Kentucky pulled off a feat it had never accomplished at all.

With last weekend's victory over No. 13 Auburn and Friday night's win over No. 9 Arkansas, Kentucky won back-to-back Southeastern Conference dual meets for the first time in the history of UK gymnastics.

The historic win came in Kentucky's home opener, Excite Night at the Kentucky Classic. The night started with an elaborate flame show and the Wildcats remained hot throughout the competition defeating the Razorbacks, 195.500-193.075.

"I think any time you can get a win, especially back-to-back wins in the SEC, you don't take it for granted," said Garrison. "They're hard to come by in this conference. It's the toughest gymnastics conference in the country."

Despite competing in the aforementioned "toughest conference in the country," UK is now 3-0 in against conference opponents and is continuing on a record pace for the program. However, Kentucky was far from perfect Friday night.

The Wildcats got off to a very slow start in the meet in front a jam-packed Memorial Coliseum on the vault, but Kenzie Hedges and Holly Cunningham put up two huge performances to save the event, scoring 9.8 and 9.825 respectively to close out the vault with a team score of 48.75.

The momentum picked up from there.

As UK shifted to the uneven bars, the Wildcats grabbed a stranglehold of the meet that they would not relinquish.

Kayla Sienkowski got things started with a strong 9.8 to lead off the uneven bars, but things got dicey when Shannon Mitchell broke her routine and finished with a 9.1. The team rallied behind her and put up solid scores. When it became Audrey Harrison's turn on the bars, she was prepared to deliver the most special performance of the night.

"When I'm going through my routine, I get kind of excited as I'm doing it," said Harrison. "It felt really great. It's one of my favorite feelings hitting a routine, so I was really excited."

The routine earned her a career- and season-high-tying 9.9 for the event as she stuck the landing. It was the jolt that Kentucky needed that carried UK the rest of the way as UK had beaten Arkansas each of the first two events.

From there, the Cats put up their best event score of the evening on the beam, earning a 49.0 that was highlighted by Shannon Mitchell and Marissa Beucler's 9.825 scores that they posted back-to-back.

The 9.825 for Mitchell was a career best on the beam. For Beucler, Friday night was the first meet that she had competed in all season. It was a great start out of the gate for freshman in her lone event of the competition.

The Wildcats had a comfortable lead heading into the floor event with a chance to clinch the meet. Mitchell followed up her beam performance with the second-best floor performance of the night, earning a career-high 9.825. And as she had done all evening, Harrison followed Mitchell with the best score in the floor event with a season-high 9.85.

With both teams completing their final events, Kentucky had defeated Arkansas on the beam, 49.0-48.675 while also taking the floor event, 195.5-144.4. The wins in the last two events capped off a sweep of all four events over the-ninth ranked team in the country.

Harrison walked away with the all-around individual victory scoring 39.275. She knew that she had performed well on the evening, but even she didn't expect the final result.

"It was exciting because I didn't add up my scores or anything," said Harrison. "It was surprising but really exciting too."

Harrison's performance was much welcomed as she stepped up in the clutch while some of her other teammates made mistakes along the way. Her steady performance helped carry the Cats to the signature victory.

"Audrey doesn't have too many events that are just big and flashy," said Garrison. "She's getting pretty flashy on bars, which is great to see because she's had it in her and now it's finally coming out.

"She's just steady on the other events. She just goes out there and does her stuff. She's cute, she smiles, the crowd loves her, and we'll take it every time."

Kentucky did not set a record for its highest score Friday night. In fact, it was only their second-highest meet score of the season. But it was an important performance nonetheless. Garrison knows, however, that there is still plenty of room for improvement.

"We could have done a lot of things better," said Garrison. "Are we happy? Yes. But as I keep saying, this team is better than we're performing right now. We have a ways to go, but I feel that we're going to get there."

Garrison has made sure to continue to hammer away the fact that his team just needs to worry about itself and everything else will fall into place. Despite some errors, UK was resilient and stuck to the game plan only to later make history once again.

"We don't set out to break those records," said Garrison. "We set out to do well and get better every week. That's what we're doing and I think the records are a product of that instead of the flipside."

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