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Welcome to UK Gymnastics Championship Central. Follow this page for daily all-access updates on the UK gymnastics team during its postseason competition. Videos, photos, news, commentary and more from team headquarters at the SEC Championships, NCAA Regionals and NCAA Championships, can all be found right here.

Additional updates on the Wildcats can be found on social media. Fans can follow the team on Twitter at @UKGymnastics, like them on Facebook at Facebook.com/UKGymnastics and on Instagram at Instagram.com/UKgymnastics.

Friday, April 18, 2014
NCAA Championships Recap | 7:30 p.m. CT
A complete recap, results, video and more from Audrey Harrison's performance on beam in the NCAA Championships first session can be found here. Harrison finished in a tie for 18th with a 9.800. The score is tied for sixth-highest NCAA score in UK history on the event.

In session one, Oklahoma, Georgia and LSU advanced to tomorrow's Super Six team finals. The second session of the NCAA Championships semifinals is underway, with host-Alabama, Florida, Nebraska, Penn State, UCLA and Utah.

Harrison Ties for 18th with UK's Sixth-Best Score in NCAA History | 4:40 p.m. CT

Senior Audrey Harrison scored a 9.800 on beam to finish tied for 18th among 45 competitors in session 1 of the national championships. The score is tied for the sixth-highest on beam at the NCAA Championships in program history. Only Jenny Hansen, who won eight national titles as a Wildcat, has recorded a higher score.

Complete results can be found here, and we caught up with Audrey after the competition, and that video can be found here or below. Audrey, the coaches and staff are heading to dinner now, before tonight's second session. We'll have much more from Birmingham towards the beginning of the second session, at 8 p.m. ET.


Harrison Scores a 9.800 | 3:15 p.m. CT

Audrey Harrison scored a 9.800 on balance beam. She currently is tied for 11th, shy of advancing to Sunday's individual finals. Through four rotations, a 9.900 is needed to place in the top four and advance.

Underway at the NCAA Championships | 1:05 p.m. CT

The teams, along with UK's Audrey Harrison, have been introduced, and we are about to get underway in the first session of the NCAA Championships. Fans can watch the full competition here on NCAA.com, or follow along with live results. Harrison will compete on beam with Georgia, in the fourth of six rotations.


NCAA Championships Meet Day is Here | 7:45 a.m. CT

The wait for Audrey Harrison and UK is almost over, the NCAA Championships begin today. The competition begins at 2 p.m. ET, and Harrison will compete in the fourth rotation on beam. Notes, stats, historical records and more are all available in the preview and meet notes on UKathletics.com. Harrison will be the first Wildcat since 2010 to compete at the national championship meet and the 10th UK gymnast in program history. She is the fourth to qualify on an individual event and the first on beam.

gym gameday NCAA semi 2014-tweet.jpg

Thursday, April 17, 2014
NCAA Championships Notes | 4:20 p.m. CT
Notes for the NCAA Championships, which include info on UK's qualifier Audrey Harrison, Kentucky's NCAA Championships history, a recap of the 2014 season and more are available here and by clicking on the first page of the notes, below.

NCAA Championships Notes

Championship Practice About to Begin | 1 p.m. CT

The practice session is wrapping up, and UK senior Audrey Harrison had a good practice on balance beam, her event at tomorrow's NCAA Championships semifinal. She will be in the same rotation as Georgia, so the practice also gave Audrey the opportunity to meet their team. We are heading to lunch now downtown, before having the rest of the afternoon and evening off.

Championship Practice About to Begin | 11:15 a.m. CT

The first NCAA Championships practice session, which includes UK senior Audrey Harrison, is about to begin here at the BJCC Arena in Birmingham. It is familiar territory for Harrison and UK coaches and staff, after the SEC Championships were held in the same venue nearly a month ago.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014
NCAA Banquet | 8:50 p.m. CT
We just returned to the hotel after a great banquet in downtown Birmingham with the rest of the teams at this year's championships. The dinner had a great view of the city, and we were able to enjoy the end of a beautiful day outside, mingling with everyone before dinner. After dinner, American Idol winner Taylor Hicks, a Birmingham native, performed. It was a great event to kick off a fun next few days here with the nation's best collegiate gymnasts.


Off to Birmingham | 11:45 a.m. ET

We are officially on the road to Birmingham, Ala., for the 2014 NCAA Gymnastics Championships. The travel party includes senior Audrey Harrison, head coach Tim Garrison, assistant coach Mary McDaniel, trainer Jake Smith and myself, Charlie Healy, the team's media relations director. The drive is expected to take about six and a half hours, and upon arrival in Birmingham, we will all go to the NCAA Championship banquet, with the other teams and individuals competing this weekend. Assistant coach Chuck Dickerson, along with many of Audrey's teammates, will join us on Friday.

Gymnastics looking for consistency in NCAA Regionals

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Kentucky set a school record at Penn State in the regular season finale last season. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics) Kentucky set a school record at Penn State in the regular season finale last season. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics)
Consistency.

Throughout the 2013-14 campaign, the Kentucky gymnastics team has turned in solid performances on each of the four events in a meet. However, it's putting it all together at once that will allow Kentucky's season to live on, which the Wildcats have yet to do this season.

UK head coach Tim Garrison has preached consistency to his team as the NCAA Regional quickly approaches. It's the one thing that has escaped his team throughout the course of the season, and in order for Kentucky to advance to the NCAA Championships in Birmingham, the Cats will need to heed the message.

"We still have yet to put a complete meet together," said Garrison who is in his third season at UK. "In my mind, we've improved in a lot of ways; we still haven't shown 100 percent of that improvement all at one time, which is something we're looking forward to doing this weekend."

The Wildcats will put their skills to the test this weekend in State College, Pa., joining No. 1 Florida, No. 12 Oregon State, No. 15 Penn State, New Hampshire and Maryland in the program's 26th NCAA appearance, including 10 straight. In the 25 previous appearances, UK has never advanced to the NCAA Championships. Hence the reason Garrison has instilled the concept that his team needs to be consistent to earn a top two finish and a berth in the NCAA Championships.

This year's NCAA Regional has put the Wildcats in a great position to claim that first NCAA Finals appearance. For instance, Kentucky is familiar with the venue in State College, having competed at Penn State last season. Coincidentally, the Wildcats registered a school record mark of 196.775 in the regular season finale at Penn State's Rec Hall, which is where this weekend's regional will be held.

Also, earlier this season, UK defeated Penn State in the season-opening meet, as part of a four-team event in Lexington.

"We think we have a favorable draw, I think for several different reasons," Garrison explained. "One, we're comfortable with Penn State. We're comfortable with the arena. We've competed against Penn State this year and had a favorable result. Obviously, that was the first meet of the year, but still it was a good result for us, so we're comfortable with that fact."

It all starts with building momentum.

Many times a meet can be determined with how a team starts. Garrison is hoping his team can build some early momentum to control the jitters and settle his team down to begin a consistent performance.

"Obviously we need a good start on bars," Garrison said. "There's a bit of momentum that comes along with getting into a competition and doing well and building momentum. It has to start somewhere and that momentum is going to have to start on bars. I'm looking for consistency. I'm looking to save every tenth we can possibly save. I'm looking to build momentum. I'm looking to put pressure on the other teams."

Kentucky's rotation will be bars, beam, bye, floor and vault. The rotation gives the Wildcats an early chance to build momentum, as the uneven bars have proven to be a good event this season.

"We have a great rotation," Garrison said. "We're starting off on bars, which is a good event for us. We go to beam, which is second, and we're settling down and we're into the competition by that point. Then we go to floor and we finish off on vault. Floor and vault this year are two very strong events for us, so we're looking forward to finishing on strong events."

Senior Audrey Harrison, who will compete in all four events, will carry some of the burden of building and sustaining that momentum and consistency.

"I definitely think we have a great chance this year," said Harrison about the team advancing to the NCAA Championships. "It's definitely possible and our confidence has been building throughout the season, so I think it can all come together and we can hit all four events at the same time, which would be awesome."

Every little detail matters when postseason arrives. Building momentum to start the meet is vital. Consistency throughout the competition is crucial.

The stage is set for the Wildcats, now they just have to take advantage.

"I think we're going to have to have a good day," Garrison said. "I think we have the team. I think we have the draw. It really is set up well for us to be successful in many different ways. Every region is going to be tough. You have six teams going in and they're all very competitive or else they wouldn't be there. You have to be one of the top two teams to come out of the region. They're going to be tough, every single one of them."

 
Audrey Harrison has emerged as one of the nation's best on floor exercise in recent weeks. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics) Audrey Harrison has emerged as one of the nation's best on floor exercise in recent weeks. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics)
By most measures the Kentucky gymnastics team produced the best season in school history last year. The 2014 campaign hasn't quite lived up to the promise of the last campaign given that the Wildcats featured no seniors in 2013, but things have begun looking up of late.

This year's campaign has had its ups and downs, but the majority of the highs have occurred in the last month. The Wildcats have overcome some head-scratching early-season performances and righted the ship in recent weeks, reaching No. 24 in the most recent rankings formula.

As such, Tim Garrison's team is in prime position to make a nice stretch run, beginning with Friday's trip to top-ranked LSU, the regular-season finale.

The trip will be a test for the Wildcats, not just because they're heading into one of the most energetic settings in college gymnastics and taking on the No. 1 team in the country.

Kentucky, 9-9 on the season and 2-4 in Southeastern Conference competition, is coming off back-to-back home meets with scores of 196.000 or higher, which serves as a sort of threshold for the team towards the latter stages of the season. Basically the Wildcats target scores more than 196.

UK's two most recent wins were upsets of ranked teams, but they came inside Memorial Coliseum. From here on out road trips are in the cards. It goes LSU this week, the SEC Championships the next and very likely an NCAA regional shortly thereafter.

The Wildcats struggled early in the season on the road, but appeared to right the ship on a two-meet weekend in late February.

In fact, both Kentucky and LSU have steadily improved since they last faced off this season, on February 15 at the Metroplex Challenge in Fort Worth, Texas. Kentucky posted a 194.850, while LSU notched a then-school-record 197.875.

LSU went on to attain the No. 1 ranking in the ensuing weeks, while for their part the Wildcats began their current run of strong results from the next week on.

At the time, UK recorded two of its best three scores of the season during the road trip the week after the first showdown with LSU, a 195.975 at Arkansas and a 195.2 at Nebraska.

The Wildcats returned home the next week and knocked off No. 11 Auburn with the second-highest home score in school history, 196.275. To follow that big score on Feb. 28, the Wildcats downed No. 22 California and Centenary with a 196.150 last Friday for a Senior Night victory.

So Kentucky heads to LSU with momentum, and floor exercise has very much been the catalyst for the team's positive direction.

"On floor closing out the night (last Friday) I thought we had a great performance once again," Garrison said. "It seems we have gotten to the point where floor is rock-solid. We have the capability to score 49.400-49.600 every week on floor."

The Wildcats are ranked 16h nationally on floor with a 49.113 average, having scored more than a 49 at all but one meet this season, including a school-record 49.650 to clinch the win vs. Auburn.

Floor exercise has absolutely been a rock for the Wildcats, which is illustrated by the fact that Garrison has such lofty expectations for the team on that event.

And no one has been better on floor than senior Audrey Harrison, who  has won the event four times this season and has emerged as a near-lock to score over 9.9 on the event in recent weeks.

Entering the stretch run, the Wildcats will rely on Harrrison and the floor-exercise lineup more broadly to help elevate the team's performances and keep the momentum going.

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.


The clock is ticking on the 2014 gymnastics season.

Just three regular-season meets and the Southeastern Conference Championship remain before NCAA competition and Tim Garrison isn't hiding from that fact.

"We're looking for a big finish to the season, that way we can accomplish our goals," Garrison said. "If we don't have a big finish to the season, we won't accomplish our goals. So we're up against it. They realize it, we know it, we've told them exactly what we need to do and they've embraced it."

The goal for Kentucky is to move into the top 18 of the national rankings for NCAA seeding purposes, meaning the Wildcats need to bolster their Regional Qualifying Score (RQS). To do that, Garrison wants his team to post four scores high enough to replace scores currently counting toward UK's RQS and move up from its current ranking of No. 24.

Some coaches might keep that thinking and the projections that go with it to themselves, but not Garrison. He believes it's best for his athletes to know exactly what's being asked of them.

"I'll put the Excel file up on the big screen in our gym and say, 'Look, here's where we are,' " Garrison said. " 'Here's what we've accomplished to this point. Here's what we need to do to get to where we can achieve our goals.' "

With solid scores of 195.975 and 195.200 last weekend, UK took a step in the right direction. That's especially true for the three Wildcat seniors: Audrey Harrison, Holly Cunningham and Kayla Sienkowski.

"I think obviously we still have places that we can improve," Garrison said. "It's nice to see our seniors come out of a little bit of a slump they were in. They've gone through quite a bit of a struggle but I think the struggle has made them stronger."

Garrison put a fair amount of thought into the reasons for the seniors' slump. He's come to the conclusion that the sense of urgency felt in their final college season got to them.

"Maybe they've already checked out and they've moved on or maybe they're feeling pressure," Garrison said. "I think our athletes were feeling the pressure. I think our seniors were feeling the pressure. I think they've gotten through that."

Over those issues and enjoying a renewed sense of confidence, the seniors are leading the way as the Cats have begun to take control of their own destiny.

"It's always great when you can feel like your athletes are becoming basically autonomous," Garrison said. "They go on their own. Obviously we're driving them, we're pushing them, we're coaching them, but when they're taking those corrections that you've been giving them for many months now and then doing them on their own, it's a good feeling to know that they're feeling more confident in themselves."

UK will look to put that confidence on display. After returning from a rare two-meet road weekend, the Cats are home the next two weekends, beginning at 7 p.m. ET on Friday against No. 11 Auburn.

"Naturally, it's nice to be in comfortable surroundings back on our home floor in front of the Big Blue Nation again," Garrison said.

Back in the friendly confines of Memorial Coliseum, the Cats will be out to finish with a flourish.

"Toward the end of the season, I expect them to perform better because they've realized what's going on, they've dealt with it," Garrison said. "They've realized, 'What's the point in feeling the pressure? We need to go out there and just do the best we can.' "

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."


Video: Gymnastics intro 2014

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All-around champion Audrey Harrison led UK to an Excite Night win on Friday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) All-around champion Audrey Harrison led UK to an Excite Night win on Friday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
With nerves rattling and his Kentucky gymnastics team still very much still a work in progress, Tim Garrison knew Excite Night wouldn't go perfectly.

Hosting the season's first meet, that was actually the point.

"What we wanted to see was fight, grit," Garrison said. "If they struggled to not let it affect them. And that's exactly what we saw tonight."

It was on display within the first few routines.

UK opened on vault and the second and third Wildcats up -- Kayla Hartley and Shelby Hilton -- posted scores of 9.400 and 9.600, respectively. But rather than let the early disappointment affect them, the Cats responded with solid routines by Shannon Mitchell, Kenzie Hedges and Holly Cunningham.

"They very easily could have put their heads down and given up on them," Garrison said. "They didn't. They took a step forward, pulled their chest up and performed well for the rest of the way."

With vault behind them, the No. 21 Cats went on to take down No. 15 Penn State (193.975), West Virginia (193.700) and Ball State (190.875) in Memorial Coliseum. The 5,839 fans in attendance loved every moment, from pre-meet festivities to the final routine on floor.

"It was electric," Garrison said. "It was a fun night. When one of our athletes would hit a landing, the whole place would just go crazy. That's what we want to bring back three weeks from now when we come back and compete here."

UK's final score initially came in at 194.900, but an inquiry into two different starting scores yielded an extra tenth of a point and gave the Cats a 195.000, as well as a psychological boost.

"It makes a big difference hearing 194, even if it's a 194.9, to a 195 because we wanted to at least get a 195,"Audrey Harrison said. "It wasn't our best at all, but it's definitely good start."

Harrison won her 12th-career all-around title on Friday with a 39.075, turning in a performance representative of her team's. She was disappointed in her bar routine after she scored a 9.700, but was undeterred. She followed it up with a 9.850 on beam and a 9.825 on floor, her two best scores of the night.

"Tim was telling us at the end and all throughout that he liked the fight because we didn't give away anything," Harrison said. "Someone could have fallen but they didn't and they saved it. We saw that on each event where people were trying not to give away anything to get the highest score possible."

Though Harrison was in a familiar role as UK's top all-arounder, many of her teammates found themselves in new positions.

Hilton competed in all-around for the first time as a Wildcat, scoring a 38.700. She will surely post higher scores as the season goes on, but Garrison called her effort "special" nonetheless. Mitchell, meanwhile, had a 9.725 in her first vault routine and true freshman Montana Whittle a 9.775 on bars, her first college routine.

"It's just a good experience," Harrison said. "We had a lot of new people out there tonight, so having this meet under their belt's going to help. We're just to take that excitement, keep the fight and then just give away even less next time."

Throughout the offseason, Garrison has said he wants consistency to be the hallmark of his team. In terms of technique, the Cats aren't there yet. But as they prepare for arguably the nation's toughest schedule, their approach is looking good.

"We were consistent because we were consistently fighting," Garrison said. "We didn't hit everything. It was definitely not a flawless night, but it was a night where we were able to come back from subtle mistakes that were made and make a good show of it."

Video: Excite Night highlights

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For more than nine months, the No. 21 Kentucky gymnastics team has thought about this moment.

After UK's record-setting 2013 season ended with a program-best score in the NCAA Regionals, Tim Garrison and the Wildcats immediately set their sights on their 2014 debut.

At Friday's annual Excite Night at the Kentucky Classic, the long wait ends.

"It's the first meet of the year and we're obviously very excited about the opportunity to get out here and compete," head coach Tim Garrison said. "We have been training, going on four months now, so the girls are kind of chomping at the bit to get going."

Garrison has been pleased with his gymnasts' approach throughout the offseason, including at UK's Blue/White Meet last month. There, the Cats got a flavor for what meets will be like. Some athletes proved to themselves they were ready for the big stage; others learned they had some fine-tuning to do.

With No. 15 Penn State, West Virginia and Ball State set to offer UK its first live competition of the season at 7 p.m. ET in Memorial Coliseum, Garrison expects the Cats to step up.

"I think we have some competitors on this team that are excited about the work, but are more excited about the competition," Garrison said. "Once you get on the competitive floor, most of the time they are going to bring their game to a different level and that's what I am looking for out of this group."

Garrison will also be looking for consistency. With the Cats still building toward routines with a higher degree of difficulty through training and recruiting, he knows success will come from steadiness.

He wants that to be just one part of his team's identity.

"I want them to be an excited group," Garrison said. "I want them to be a tough group. I want them to be fighters. I want them to be scrappy. I want them to come out of the meet tomorrow knowing if something happens or there is a slip-up here or there, that the next five will take care of it and make their routines."

It's Garrison's hope that that resilience is so plain to see that the big crowd there for Excite Night festivities will leave Memorial thinking about it.

"That is another thing that I asked the athletes to do is develop an identity, but not only for themselves, but for the fan base," Garrison said. "I want them to be excited, even if someone has a slip-up here and there. I want that fan to come back because they saw that athlete and how they reacted after and anticipation for the next time knowing they are going to hit it."

The athletes hitting those routines for UK will be familiar to fans.

Audrey Harrison -- who led the Southeastern Conference in all-around titles a season ago -- will once again anchor the lineup as a senior. Redshirt junior and All-SEC performer Kayla Hartley will likely compete on vault, bars and floor, where she will serve as UK's anchor.

Returners Holly Cunningham, Kayla Sienkowski, Shelby Hilton, Tiara Phipps, Marissa Beucler, Kenzie Hedges and Shannon Mitchell will all play a part as well, but it's not yet clear how UK's lineup will look. That will make Friday a learning experience for everyone, from athletes to coaches.

"Even though we have a lot of returners from last year's team, we are still playing around with some lineups and changing things around and will be very fluid even through the warm-up tomorrow," Garrison said. "We're going to learn a lot and they are going to learn a lot and it will make us better in the following weekend."

For that reason, Garrison won't measure his team's success this season until much later.

He hopes to settle on a lineup sometime around Sara Shipley's anticipated return from injury in late February or early March. Since UK is facing what many believe to be the nation's toughest schedule, some bumps in the road are surely in store for the Cats because of that.

"Trust me; I want to win worse than anything," Garrison said. "I don't like losing. It is not my makeup. But, at the same time, we are competing against tough competition and we are getting better every weekend and are really building this team for the future."

Whenever Garrison refers to the future, his meaning is twofold.

First, he's looking to lift his current team to its fullest potential. That was proven by the Cats posting their highest-ever Regional Qualifying Score in 2013, as well as setting a record with a 196.775 against the same Penn State team that will compete in Memorial on Friday.

But second, Garrison's goal of making Kentucky a perennial power on both the SEC and national scenes is never far from his mind.

"Part of this group right here is going to be there when I think that comes to fruition, so we want to go against tough competition every weekend," Garrison said.

Recent Comments

  • Guy Ramsey: The song is "The Mighty Rio Grande" by the band This Will Destroy You. read more
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