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Records fall as UK posts season-high score, SEC win

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Tim Garrison had a good feeling heading into a Southeastern Conference home meet against No. 11 Auburn.

Even after he learned on Friday afternoon that senior Holly Cunningham would have to be removed from UK's vault and beam lineup due to an issue with her hip flexor, Garrison couldn't shake the positive vibes.

"We had a great feeling about the night. I'm not sure exactly what it was," Garrison said. "Feelings are just that. You don't know why sometimes, but you just have them."

Garrison might not be giving himself enough credit for how well he knows his team.

Making the last-minute changes of inserting Kayla Hartley into the vault lineup and Shelby Hilton on beam, the Wildcats didn't miss a beat. UK posted the fifth-highest score in school history -- also a season high -- to take down No. 11 Auburn, 196.275-194.825.

"We had (the good feelings) and the athletes were all smiles and ready to go today and they were up for it and that's the way it played out," Garrison said. "Why it happened, I'm not exactly sure other than the fact that they were training well and they competed well for the most part tonight."

From the very beginning, UK seemed poised to do big things.

Audrey Harrison led off on vault with a season-high 9.875, while Hilton (season-high-tying 9.800), Shannon Mitchell (career-high-tying 9.900), Kenzie Hedges (9.850) and Hartley (career-high 9.775) followed with solid scores of their own. As a team, UK scored a season-high 49.200 on the first apparatus.

The Cats sustained the momentum on bars with career highs from Hartley (9.900) and Kayla Sienkowski (9.875). Each good routine seemed to lead into the next.

"Oh, you feed off of it so well," Hartley said. "The person in front of you sets you up and you're just like, 'Yes, here we go. Let's get to it.' "

UK experienced its only setback of the night on beam when Amy Roemmele scored a 9.050. Hilton -- stepping in as the Cats' anchor -- had a chance to erase the score but fell and posted an 8.450.

Beam has been somewhat of a bugaboo this season, as UK has posted its lowest score on the event in five of its last six meets, but the Cats weren't about to be derailed heading into the floor exercise.

"When you struggle on beam--that's what we talked about over there is not letting the energy go down," Garrison said. "In fact, we're going to bring the energy up a notch or two and they responded exactly the way we hoped they would."

Hilton, minutes removed from her disappointing beam routine, got it started.

"We've been having trouble on beam and I think some of the performances, we had to get mad and get it done on floor to bring the team back up again so that we can trust ourselves to know that we can do it," Hilton said.

Bucking the expression, Hilton both got mad and got even by nailing her routine and scoring a career-high 9.925. The tone set, Taylor Puryear, Hedges, Harrison and Hartley followed with career-high scores of their own.

On the strength of all those record-setting performances, UK shattered the school record on floor by 0.200 with a 49.650, which also happens to be the second-highest score in the nation this season.

"To be able to finish the night like that, especially rebounding from a rough beam rotation, we'll take it," Garrison said.

UK -- in command from the first routine onward -- didn't need a floor score nearly that high to defeat the Tigers on this night. The Cats are now 5-1 against Auburn in the last five years with four straight wins in regular-season meets, but that doesn't mean Garrison doesn't appreciate the victory.

"Wins over SEC teams are hard to come by," Garrison said. "So anytime you can get a win over an SEC team you definitely don't take it for granted. And we're not. That's what we talked about to the girls after the meet is, 'Listen, we don't take these for granted because they're hard to come by.' "

Garrison also isn't taking the fact that UK had 12 individual routines that set season or career highs for granted, but that isn't his primary goal either.

"I'm happy for all of our athletes that did break records, but overall as a team I'm pleased that we're moving forward with a great score that we can carry into next Friday, our last home meet, Senior Night," Garrison said. "We're excited to have a big crowd here and finish the home season off with a bang."

Earlier this week, the fourth-year head coach said he wanted to replace four scores in UK's final four meets to bolster his team's Regional Qualifying Score. After Friday, it's one down, three to go.

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