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Garrison keeps it positive, Cats respond with season-high score

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Audrey Harrison's season-best all-around score of 39.225 highlighted UK's season-high 195.450 against top-ranked Florida. (Aaron Borton, UK Athletics) Audrey Harrison's season-best all-around score of 39.225 highlighted UK's season-high 195.450 against top-ranked Florida. (Aaron Borton, UK Athletics)
Holly Cunningham was pretty sure what was in store on Monday.

Kentucky was just two days removed from a season-low score in a meet at Georgia, the kind of effort that simply hasn't happened during Tim Garrison's time as head coach.

Practice, she figured, wasn't going to be any fun at all.

"We had one of our worst meets ever and we were expecting to come into the gym and for it to be really hard and for him to really mad at us," Cunningham said.

Cunningham was wrong, a pleasant surprise to her and her teammates.

Garrison decided the Wildcats didn't need a drill sergeant. They didn't need to be told the performance wasn't good enough because they were perfectly aware already.

"I think every athlete, every coach at some point has to have amnesia and I think that's what we needed to do because that wasn't a representation of what our team is," Garrison said. "It's not what we're about, it's not the way we train, it's not the way we compete, speaking of last week."

With that in mind, Garrison and his coaching staff took a positive tone as the Cats prepared to host No. 1 Florida.

"You don't know what to expect after a bad meet, but all the coaches know we're so much better than that and we just need to believe in ourselves," Audrey Harrison said.

The approach worked, as UK posted a season-high score of 195.450 on Friday night in Memorial Coliseum.

"We definitely didn't have a perfect meet, but if someone did wobble they tried to save every tenth," Harrison said. "I saw a lot of fight and excitement and positivity."

It started on vault, UK's opening event.

Showing no signs of a hangover from last Saturday, the Cats opened with five solid scores. Stepping to the runway as the anchor for her only routine of the evening, Cunningham executed and stuck her landing for a season-high score of 9.850 to give her team a season-high score of its own, 49.000.

"She did what she was capable of," Garrison said before pausing to think. "Actually, I think she's got a little bit more in the bag. She can make that thing a little bit better, but at least she stuck the landing and that's what we're looking for. Last person on vault, bringing it home for the team, getting ready to move to the second event, we need somebody to make a statement and she did that for us."

UK rode the momentum to solid scores on the bars and beam, as gymnasts refused to let minor mistakes turn into major missteps, save for Shelby Hilton's fall on beam. But even then, Marissa Beucler and Harrison picked up their teammate with good routines.

"That was huge for us," Garrison said. "Not that we wanted the mistake to happen, but the fact that it happened and the fact that two athletes immediately after her corrected that, that was huge for us to see moving forward."

Finishing up the night on floor, the Cats posted four scores of 9.800 or better. Included in that group is Harrison, who closed out a season-high all-around score of 39.225 with a 9.825 on floor.

"Being a senior and the fact that she means so much to this program in the gym and also in the classroom, she's just a stellar person," Garrison said. "To have her come out and compete a good, solid all-around, she struggled the last couple weeks, to have her turn that around at home in front of her fans was really exciting to see."

UK's season-best score wasn't enough to take down the defending national champion Gators, who tallied a 197.175. Though he noticed Bridget Sloan's perfect 10.000 on beam en route to an all-around title, Garrison wasn't all that concerned with Florida.

"We want to be seeded for the first time in University of Kentucky gymnastics history, which means top 18 in the country after SECs to give ourselves a chance to make it national championships," Garrison said. "We really weren't worried a whole lot about what they were doing. We were running our own race tonight."

In running their own race, Garrison said the Cats "made progress" Friday night.

It was around this time last season when UK hit its stride and began shattering program records. Garrison can see a similar stretch around the corner if his team keeps up the work.

"What tells me that more anything else is what I see in the gym," Garrison said. "So now we're getting more comfortable. We've been in a competitive environment five times now. We're starting to get more comfortable in the gym. What I'm seeing in the gym is going to come through more and more on the competition floor, whether we're home or away."

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