Head coach Tim Garrison has turned the UK gymnastics program into an up-and coming-force in the SEC in just two seasons. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
There's something to be said for consistency. Well, there's a lot to be said for consistency. It's a desirable attribute in just about every facet of life. Knowing what to expect on a daily basis - whether it's at work, in relationships or a performance - is paramount to the success.
A strong leader is often defined by his/her message. And that message is often one that is heard repeatedly by those being led as they look to achieve a collective mentality to drive toward a common end. Consistency with that message, both verbally and by example, is the most effective way in ensuring that message is received and absorbed.
Consistency is at the root of the turnaround of the Kentucky gymnastics program.
If you haven't been paying attention, UK is having its best season in school history. Currently, the Wildcats are rolling on their hottest streak the program has ever seen with three consecutive performances of 196.
UK has reached its highest regional qualifying score, currently sitting at 195.86. They Cats have also moved into the top 20 in the country according to the Gyminfo national poll at No. 19. UK has won the most Southeastern Conference meets (three) in program history, including its first SEC road win since 1999. And the Cats broke the school record against Ball State with a team-high score of 196.5.
After that record performance in Muncie, Ind., Kentucky head coach Tim Garrison was happy, yet still not satisfied.
"We had a good day," said Garrison. "As I have said all year, this team still has more to offer. Stay tuned."
That's been Garrison's feeling all season long. He's seen his program start as an also-ran in the SEC., and now it's on a rapid rise. Still, what the Cats have done last year in his first year and this year, the most successful season the program has seen as a team, isn't the vision that Garrison had when he first took over the program in May of 2011.
His vision is much greater. Why? He's confident in this program and his athletes.
"He's always been intense, but in a good way," said junior Audrey Harrison. "He pushes us and believes in us, and that's why he pushes us so hard because he knows how good we can be. I think he's always been like that."
Harrison has been the prototypical athlete and performer that Garrison has in mind. She's the lone gymnast for Kentucky that competes in every single event. She leads the SEC - which is as dominant in gymnastics as it is in football - with seven all-around titles this season. She's also earned 15 individual event titles this season.
Garrison has praised his junior all season long for her "steadiness" and "reliability," all attributes that align with how he operates. It's been that way for Garrison since day one, and the athletes have taken notice.
"I feel like he's still pretty much the same guy," said junior Kayla Hartley. "He still has what he wants to do and how he wants to do it. He's never changed that."
That's not to say Garrison is afraid to make adjustments. He's not. In actuality, that's what's led to a great deal of UK's success this season.
Garrison has changed up the lineup in each event this season multiple times, tweaking here and there based on performance, not personnel. He's been fair to each and every athlete on his roster, whether she is on scholarship or a walk-on. There are spots to be earned each week, and those who deserve it earn it.
He hasn't only made changes in his lineups, but he's resigned from a position as well.
When Garrison was first entertaining the idea of the UK job while serving as an assistant at Nebraska, he already had a dear friend with close knowledge of the position. A 20-year relationship with assistant Kentucky gymnastics coach Chuck Dickerson, which started back in Texas when they worked together in Houston, gave Garrison plenty of insight to the job and the department. Dickerson had also served as an assistant on the previous staff, so his job security was in question.
"We were actually out at Nebraska at a meet," said Dickerson. "He pulled me aside and said, 'I've got a question for you. I'm thinking about applying for that job. I'd really love you to stay if I take it.' And I said, 'Well I'm not going anywhere unless you don't want me here.' And he goes, 'Absolutely, I want you here.' "
So when Garrison got the job, Dickerson stayed. They then added Mary McDaniel after she spent 20 years as a club coach in Kansas to help coach beam and coordinate dance routines for floor exercise. The combination has been a near-perfect match.
Garrison had been working with both uneven bars and vault performers since he arrived to UK. The Wildcats were finding some success this season on vault, but not nearly to the level that Garrison expected after what he had seen in practice. Just a few weeks ago, realizing that the vaulters maybe needed a new voice and perspective, Garrison removed himself from vault and inserted Dickerson. Since the move, UK has stuck more dismounts than they have all season long. It was a win-win situation in every aspect.
"It made me feel good that he trusted me," said Dickerson of Garrison. "I think he's always trusted me, but it's a matter of he's always done vault at Nebraska and here, so he said to take it over and let's see what happens, and the kids have responded.
"That's how good of a head coach he is. He realized that it wasn't clicking, and not many head coaches would do that. Pride. But we've got to win."
After all, that's what Garrison is all about: results. And now Kentucky is producing them with three straight scores of 196-plus.
Now that Kentucky is showing consistency, the staff is hoping that 196 is no longer an achievement, but a standard they set heading into the future.
"That's what Tim and I talked about," Dickerson said. "We wanted to take our bad days and make them not so bad. And make our good days great days.
"We want an OK day to be a 196.5. On great days, we want a 197.5. And I think we can do that."
Kentucky has no active seniors on the roster, meaning UK will return every single athlete for the 2013-14 season. With additions coming in next season, Kentucky could completely break through to the top of the SEC and make some waves at the national level.
Though the Cats are still completely focused on finishing off their record-breaking season, the staff and athletes alike are already looking forward to next season. But the only way next season reaches the potential they believe it holds is if they finish strong this season to build a strong foundation for the next.
"It's been super exciting," said Harrison, "And I think next year will be even better because we're just gaining people; we're not losing people. I'm already really excited for next year too.
"We have talked about it before. It's just in the back of our minds because we have to focus on right now and this year."
The finish this year will determine how next year begins. If the Wildcats continue to climb, it will give them plenty of momentum going into the beginning of the season next year. In a sport like gymnastics where performances are judged, changing perception is very important, and setting the bar high from outset can change the complexion of an entire season the rest of the way.
The Wildcats started 2013 with their best opening weekend in school history, but even still, UK is looking for a better start to set the tone going forward.
"We talk about it because how you start the season is a little bit how you're judged the rest of the year," said Dickerson. "We started OK, great for us, but not great. We're hitting on all cylinders now, but next year, we need to start how we finish this year with 196-plus on the first day. Then, you're in that top 10 and you stay in that top 10 all year long. Then you're seeded and you've got a wonderful shot."
Garrison wants a shot at the top of the SEC and to make a strong showing at nationals. It's just going to take time. But even Dickerson's not surprised with how quickly his friend has turned things around. It was just a matter of changing the culture, and that change was evident since Garrison stepped on campus for his first day of work.
"I'm not surprised at how quick," said Dickerson. "It was just a matter of getting their mindset correct, and he brought a good, disciplined mindset."
The best quality that Garrison has contributed to that mindset? There's no question about it.
"More than anything, he's greatest quality is consistency; very direct and to the point," said Dickerson. "And that's where he's so good. He doesn't allow us to step back, and we needed that. Consistency, yeah, he's consistent. What you see is what you get, every single step of the way."
Men's basketball - Kentucky went 1-1 on the week which included a critical upset of No. 9/11 Florida on Saturday. - Freshman Archie Goodwin was sensational in leading the Cats with an average of 18.0 points, five rebounds and three steals in two games this week. Goodwin snatched a career-high four steals in the upset of the Gators and had a team-high 16 points. - With the win over Florida, UK improves to 10-0 at home in Rupp Arena against ranked foes in the John Calipari era. - The win also helped seal the No. 2 overall seed in the SEC Tournament. UK has won the tournament twice in Calipari's tenure.
Women's basketball - Kentucky advanced to the SEC Championship game for the third time in four seasons before falling to Texas A&M. - UK logged wins against Vanderbilt and No. 12 Georgia en route to making its title game appearance. - UK outscored the Lady Dawgs 41-14 in the second half, holding them scoreless for the final 6:08 of the game, and 22.2 percent (14-of-63) shooting for the game. - Senior All-America candidate A'dia Mathies (Louisville, Ky.) added 11 points and grabbed two steals which set a new UK career steals record with 310. The previous record was 309 set by Stacey Reed from 1991-95.
Rifle - The Kentucky rifle team placed second at the NCAA Championships, shooting a 4670 to place runner-up for a second consecutive year. - Senior Henri Junghänel placed second in individual smallbore, falling by .5 points to claim the silver medal. - Freshman Connor Davis finished fourth individually in air rifle. - Kentucky had six members named All-America, including Connor Davis, Heather Greathouse, Emily Holsopple, Ed Ryznar, Elijah Ellis and Stacy Wheatley. Henri Junghanel would have been selected but was not eligible because he is currently in graduate school.
Gymnastics - The 20th-ranked Kentucky Gymnastics team topped 196 for the third consecutive meet in a 196.375-192.7 win over Bowling Green on Friday. - Kayla Hartley clinched the second-highest team score in school history with a 9.9 floor exercise routine. The performance gave Hartley the event title for the second week in a row. It was also her first 9.9 since the season-opener. The junior has three event crowns from the past two meets. - The Wildcats scored 49.125 on floor, which tied the season high. - Kenzie Hedges took the event honors on vault as she stuck her landing for a career-best 9.875.
Softball - The No. 15 UK softball team started its Southeastern Conference schedule in style by winning its series with the Ole Miss Rebels. UK dropped the first game of the series 3-1, before winning the final two games 5-2. The series win is the sixth consecutive over Ole Miss and marks the second time in three years UK has won the opening series of conference play. The series vs. Ole Miss was the first ever games played in the new UK Softball Complex. - Freshman infielder Christian Stokes led the way for Kentucky, hitting .833 (5-for-6) for the weekend with three RBI and her first collegiate home run. Junior Lauren Cumbess went 3-for-9 over the weekend with a double, while junior Emily Gaines was 2-for-6 with two RBI. - Freshman pitcher Kelsey Nunley suffered her first loss of the season in game one before earning wins Saturday and Sunday in a relief effort. Nunley is 12-1 on the year with a 2.02 ERA, striking out a team-best 67 batters. Baseball - Seventh-ranked Kentucky completed a 3-1 week with a series win over Michigan State during the weekend, also picking up a midweek win over Xavier on Wednesday. - UK opened the series with the Spartans with a 2-1 win on Friday night. Sophomore left-hander A.J. Reed worked seven shutout innings, allowing only five hits and two walks. All-American centerfielder Austin Cousino got UK on the board with a first-inning homer, before Max Kuhn slugged his first career homer in the bottom of the eighth as the game-winning bomb. - Kentucky won the series on Sunday in another rubber-match win from junior southpaw Corey Littrell, making his eighth series-deciding start in the last two years. The All-America starter worked seven innings and allowed just one run, striking out a career-high nine.
Men's tennis - The UK men's tennis team fell twice this weekend, to No. 38 Baylor and No. 14 Texas A&M. - Kentucky's road trip continues next weekend traveling to Ole Miss for a Friday showdown in Oxford before continuing the weekend in Starkville against the Mississippi State Bulldogs.
Women's tennis - No. 44 Kentucky went 1-1 over the weekend, defeating No. 57 Missouri 5-2 on Friday, before falling to No. 4 Texas A&M 5-2 on Sunday. - Freshman Nadia Ravita knocked off sixth-ranked Cristina Sanchez-Quintanar on Sunday 2-6, 6-4, 6-2. The win was Ravita's 13th singles win and fourth win over a ranked opponent this year. - In Kentucky's win over Missouri, the Wildcats received singles wins in slots one through four, with Nadia Ravita, Jessica Stiles, Edmee Morin-Kougoucheff and Caitlin McGraw winning in straight sets.
Track and field - The No. 20 Kentucky women's track and field team finished the NCAA Indoor Championships tied for 20th-place. The Wildcats earned the program's highest team finish since 1994 when they also finished tied for 20th. The Wildcats' 10 team points was the highest total at the National Championship Meet since 1990. - Cally Macumber won the bronze medal in the women's 3,000 meters final to add six points to the Kentucky cause. She also contributed four on Friday night as the anchor in the distance medley relay. - Morganne Phillips, Allison Peare and Chelsea Oswald were the other members of that squad. - Keith Hayes scored two points for the men with a seventh-place finish in the 60-meter hurdles. Hayes lowered his school-record time to 7.69 in the event prelims to reach the final.
Men's golf - The Kentucky men's golf team finished seventh out of the 17-team field at the USF Invitational, shooting 20 strokes over par for the tournament. - Junior Stephen Powers recorded his second top-10 finish of the year, placing tied for sixth at 2-under-par. The Naperville, Ill., native was tied for the lead after the first round, posting a 4-under-par day and concluded his impressive tournament with an even par round two and two-over-par round three. - Junior Ben Stow also finished in the top-20, tying for 14th overall at 1-over-par.
Monday, March 11 Men's golf at Tiger Invitational (Auburn, Ala.)
Tuesday, March 12 Baseball hosts Ohio - 4:00 p.m. Softball hosts North Carolina - 5:00 p.m. Men's golf at Tiger Invitational (Auburn, Ala.) Wednesday, March 13 Softball hosts Southern Illinois • 3:00 p.m. Baseball hosts Cincinnati • 4:00 p.m.
Thursday, March 14 Swimming and diving at NCAA Zones - 10:00 a.m. (West Lafayette, Ind.) Track and field at Bulls Invitational (Tampa, Fla.)
Friday, March 15 Men's tennis at Ole Miss - 2:00 p.m. Women's tennis hosts Ole Miss - 4:00 p.m. Softball at LSU - 7:00 p.m. Baseball at Florida - 7:30 p.m. Men's basketball vs. Arkansas/Vanderbilt - 7:30 p.m. (Nashville) Swimming and diving at NCAA Zones - 10:00 a.m. (West Lafayette, Ind.) Women's golf at Insperity Lady Jaguar Intercollegiate (Augusta, Ga.) Men's golf at Schenkel Invitational (Statesboro, Ga.)
Saturday, March 16 Baseball at Florida - Noon Softball at LSU - 5:00 p.m. Gymnastics at Penn State - 7:00 p.m. Men's basketball at SEC Semifinals - 3:30 p.m. (Nashville) Swimming and diving at NCAA Zones - 10:00 a.m. (West Lafayette, Ind.) Women's golf at Insperity Lady Jaguar Intercollegiate (Augusta, Ga.) Men's golf at Schenkel Invitational (Statesboro, Ga.)
Sunday, March 17 Women's tennis hosts Mississippi State - Noon Softball at LSU - 1:00 p.m. Baseball at Florida - 1:00 p.m. Men's tennis at Mississippi State - 1:00 p.m. Men's basketball at SEC Finals - 3:30 p.m. (Nashville) Women's golf at Insperity Lady Jaguar Intercollegiate (Augusta, Ga.) Men's golf at Schenkel Invitational (Statesboro, Ga.)
Holly Cunningham's 9.875 on beam against Ball State helped UK earn a program-record team score of 196.5 last weekend. (Aaron Borton, UK Athletics)
All eyes were on Holly Cunningham. Her teammate had just fallen on UK's fifth balance beam routine at Ball State as the Wildcats looked to put the finishing touches on a record performance.
Needing a 9.75 to break the Kentucky team score record and to cancel out the fall, Cunningham did not deliver said score. She shattered it with a 9.875 by sticking her beam routine, picking up her teammate and the rest of her squad all the while.
It was the perfect ending to the best day in Kentucky gymnastics history as the Wildcats finished with a 196.5. It also began with an inspirational team meeting called by Cunningham before the meet in Muncie, Ind.
"I feel like knowing that we don't have any seniors on this team, I try to step up a little bit," said Cunningham. "Before the meet this time, I pulled everyone together. I made everyone tell me exactly what they were going to do and exactly how they were going to do it and for them to tell me that they knew they could do every single skill."
It was the first time that Cunningham had ever done this before a meet.
Before Cunningham could find the confidence and security to step up in front of her team in such a manner, she first had to take care of herself.
The junior had struggled to find a level of consistency on balance beam early on the in the season. It got to the point where beam coach Mary McDaniel opted to hold Cunningham out of the lineup against Georgia and Missouri. Coincidentally (or maybe not), Kentucky posted its lowest team score of the season against Missouri, including a 47.150 on beam, also the Wildcats' lowest output in the event all year.
It was at that point when Cunningham knew a change was in order.
"I've had a couple of rough months throughout the beginning of the season just trying to get my confidence level back and maintain the pressure of being the anchor," said Cunningham. "Mary had pulled me out because I kept falling meet after meet and I couldn't handle it I guess.
"I just changed my attitude in practice and told myself that this routine is easy for me; I've been doing it for maybe 10 years now. Being able to get up there and hit it (at Ball State) was really just one of the best feelings."
It's not that Cunningham didn't want to step up earlier. She just knew that she couldn't if she continued to perform at the level that she was. As a junior, she knew it was time that she took things into her own hands. Not that the Cats was struggling - because they weren't - but each one of them knew that they were each individually and collectively capable of so much more.
That's why the previous meet against Florida, where UK scored a season-high 196.075 and notched its first score of 196-plus of the season, was such a big deal.
Head coach Tim Garrison has been pushing and pushing all season long for UK to reach its potential. The Cats aren't there yet, but they have come a long way and seem to be on their way into uncharted waters. Well, perhaps with their performance against Ball State, they are at least in the shallow end.
"I think at Florida, with getting our first 196 of the season, it helped us realize that we have potential," said Cunningham. "From Florida, the coaches just told us that we each need to focus on little, individual things. I told the team, 'If you just work on making yourself two percent better just think how much better the team will be.' "
Everyone is taking notice of the team's overall confidence boost, but Cunningham's recent surge has been especially crucial and recognizable. A pressure-packed situation like the one in which she produced at Ball State was indicative of that.
"When you can go out and do what she did, that speaks to confidence right there," said Garrison of Cunningham's beam routine. "If you're not confident, you'll find a way to mess it up. On four inches of beam, it's really easy to mess it up."
But she didn't. She nailed it. She came up with a clutch performance and showed the attitude and fight that Garrison has been searching for from the beginning.
"Finally they've gotten to the point where they're not giving into senseless mistakes and they're fighting and gritting through," said Garrison. "That's what I've wanted since day one. I wanted a team that was gritty and not willing to give up a mistake.
"Obviously we had a fall off the beam, but then right behind her Holly goes up and just nails a beam routine and sticks the landing for a 9.875. That is what I'm looking for, and they did it."
It wasn't just Cunningham though who has shown resilience though. Garrison rattled off multiple performances from the Ball State meet that illustrated examples of fight and attention to detail, whether it's Kayla Hartley's continued improvement on bars, Audrey Harrison's consistency and stability or Jill Chappel's focus on sticking her landings, slowly but surely, this team is developing a more coarse grade of grit.
It's clearly been a gradual process for UK to develop its rough and tough attitude, but the results are indicative that it's happening. For Cunningham, she had to do some major polishing of her skills and her attitude before that grit could develop. Only then did she feel she could be one of the leaders on this team.
"I feel like it's taken some time," said Cunningham. "I didn't want anyone to think that I was trying to overpower them because there are some sophomores that are really close to my age and I didn't want them to think that, 'Oh, she thinks that she's the old junior and is in charge.' But I just want them to know that I'm here to encourage and help them in any way possible."
Kentucky's success at Florida was a huge momentum builder, but the meet was a big first step for Cunningham to regain what she'd lost with her return to the beam lineup after a brief hiatus. It served as an opportunity to prove to herself what she is capable of. It also gave her teammates an opportunity to reestablish the confidence that she would come up in clutch situations as the anchor of the beam lineup.
In front of a huge crowd against No. 1 Florida, Cunningham did not disappoint. She propelled UK to a 49.050 with her vault of 9.875 and promptly keyed a 9.850 to finish with a season-high 49.150 on beam. If it weren't for that performance, Cunningham likely doesn't take that step forward as a leader and a clutch performer last week against Ball State.
Now she and the Wildcats will look to continue to pile on the momentum in their final home meet of the season Friday against Bowling Green at 7 p.m. ET.
"It's a whole different story when you're out there and doing well and trying to boost up the team," said Cunningham. "If you're going out there and falling every weekend and then telling the team that they need to step up, then they'll say, 'Well, you're not doing it.'
"I think after this weekend, that's why they came up and thanked me for (talking to the team before the meet). They appreciated it. Me stepping up on beam obviously is a big step and I think they all trust me now."
The Kentucky gymnastics team is having one of the best seasons in school history. Heading into a Senior Night meet against Bowling Green on Friday at 7 p.m. ET, the Wildcats are looking to build off of a 196.5 team score - the highest ever for the program. The video below gives you an idea of the kind of leadership Tim Garrison has brought to UK.
Men's basketball - Kentucky went 1-1 on the week with a win over Mississippi State before falling at Arkansas on Saturday. - Freshman Willie Cauley-Stein continued his dynamic play by averaging 12.5 points, 8.0 rebounds, 3.5 blocks and 1.5 steals per game this week. - With the win over the Bulldogs, UK secured its 57th 20-win season in program history - Kentucky was led in scoring by Arkansas native Archie Goodwin with 14 points in the loss to the Razorbacks. Women's basketball - After earning its school-record tying 13th SEC win with a commanding 78-65 victory over No. 8 Tennessee on Senior Day, Kentucky earned the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye in the SEC Tournament. - The Wildcats have had another remarkable season under the direction of head coach Matthew Mitchell. Mitchell, who became UK's all-time winningest coach with the win over Tennessee, has led the Cats to a school-record fourth straight 25-win season with a 25-4 overall record, including a 13-3 mark in SEC play. - A'dia Mathies had led the team in scoring (16.0), 3-point field goals made (60) and 3-point field goal percentage (.403), and has reached double figures in 27-of-29 games, including 20 in a row
Gymnastics - The Kentucky gymnastics team shattered the school record with a 196.5 team score in a win at Ball State on Sunday. - Kentucky has now posted team scores of more than 196 two weeks in a row for the first time in school history. - Audrey Harrison won her fifth consecutive individual all-around title with a huge career-high score of 39.425. - The Knoxville, Tenn., native now has a Southeastern Conference-leading seven AA titles this season. Softball - For the second consecutive weekend, the No. 17 Kentucky softball team went undefeated in a weekend tournament, posting a 5-0 record in the 2013 Under Armour Invitational with wins against Illinois, USF, Loyola Marymount, Central Michigan and Western Michigan. - This is the first time in school history UK has gone undefeated in consecutive tournaments. - Senior Kara Dill led UK offensively over the weekend with a .353 (6-for-17) average, including six runs scored and her first triple of the season. - In the circle, Lauren Cumbess paced UK with a 2-0 record and 0.58 ERA in 12 innings pitched, including 11 strikeouts. True freshman Kelsey Nunley went 3-0 on the weekend with a 1.94 ERA, throwing 21.2 innings, allowing six earned runs with 18 strikeouts.
Baseball - The eighth-ranked Kentucky baseball team completed its first home week with five wins, including a series sweep over Akron during the weekend. UK picked up midweek wins over Murray State and Eastern Kentucky. - UK has been led individually by junior infielder J.T. Riddle, who has hit .447 (21-for-47) with three doubles, one triple, one homer and 11 RBI, stealing three bases and reaching base at a .527 clip. - On the mound, UK had a 2.57 ERA in 98 innings, walking only 27 and striking out 87, with opponents hitting .255, stealing only 3-of-7 bases and UKL picking off four runners. - During the five-game week, UK got a jaw-dropping hitting performance from Reed, who drove in 15 RBI with three homers and a double during the week, batting .526 (10-for-19).
Men's tennis - Kentucky opened the 2013 SEC season by collecting two wins over No. 49 Arkansas (5-2) on Friday and No. 39 LSU (4-0) on Sunday afternoon to move to 14-2 (2-0 SEC) on the season. - Senior No. 21 Anthony Rossi upped his record to 14-1 on the season, picking up wins number 95 and 96 in his career. Rossi has now won nine consecutive straight-set matches and has also won 18 of the last 19 sets he has played. - UK won the doubles point in both matches this weekend, as the Wildcats are now 11 for 13 this season in doubles competition.
Women's tennis - The Kentucky women's tennis team went 1-1 in the opening weekend of Southeastern Conference play. - After falling 4-3 at Arkansas on Friday, Kentucky traveled to Baton Rouge, La., and defeated the No. 63 Tigers 4-3. - Freshman Kirsten Lewis had a comeback win to clinch Kentucky's win over LSU, taking the No. 5 singles point 1-6, 7-5, 6-4. - Senior Jessica Stiles, sophomore Stephanie Fox and freshman Nadia Ravita all recorded singles wins in straight sets vs. LSU.
Track and field - Five Kentucky track and field athletes, four women and a man, are in position to qualify for this weekend's NCAA Indoor Championships as they own top-16 times. - The Women's Distance Medley Relay Team of Cally Macumber, Morganne Phillips, Allison Peare and Chelsea Oswald broke the school record with a time of 11:00.33 on Friday. - That time ranks No. 6 in the nation. - Keith Hayes broke the school 60-meter hurdles record with a time of 7.73 on Saturday. - That time ranks No. 9 n the nation.
Swimming and diving - The Kentucky swimming team sent several swimmers to the Bulldog Last Chance Meet this past weekend in Athens, Ga., attempting to earn qualifying times for the 2013 NCAA Championships. - Sophomore Christina Bechtel improved her time in the 100-butterfly with a 52.62, second best in program history in that event. The time likely will earn her a ticket to the NCAA Championships in Indianapolis, Ind., March 21-23. - Junior Lucas Gerotto also improved his time in the 100-backstroke while breaking his own program record in the event, finishing with a 47.19 to increase the likelihood that he is asked back for his second consecutive NCAA appearance.
Monday, March 4 Men's golf at USF Invitational (Tampa, Fla.)
Tuesday, March 5 Baseball hosts Cincinnati - 4:00 p.m. Men's golf at USF Invitational (Tampa, Fla.)
Men's basketball - Kentucky captured a pair of critical home victories this week including an overtime thriller against Missouri. - Senior Julius Mays poured in a team-high 24 points in the win over Missouri on Saturday. He launched four 3-pointers and has now connected on at least one shot from long range in 16 straight games. - Freshman Willie Cauley-Stein notched a career-high 20 points to push UK past Vanderbilt earlier in the week. He followed that performance with a career-high tying 12 rebounds against Missouri to go along with a career-best seven blocked shots. - Alex Poythress scored 21 points, while Archie Goodwin notched 18 - all coming after the half in the win over Missouri.
Women's basketball - Kentucky split road games last week, defeating No. 10/13 Texas A&M 70-66 in College Station on ESPN2's Big Monday before falling at LSU on Sunday in Baton Rouge 77-72. - Against the Aggies, junior center DeNesha Stallworth flirted with a triple-double as she charted 12 points, 12 rebounds and a school-record seven blocks. . - Mathies netted a team-high 20 points at LSU, passing former Wildcat great Victoria Dunlap as UK's No. 2 all-time leading scorer with 1,863 career points.
Gymnastics - Kentucky recorded its best score of the year at Florida on Friday. The Wildcats finished with a total score of 196.075, dropping the meet to the Gators' score of 196.975. - UK's score was good for the sixth best in program history. - The Wildcats used season-high event scores on vault and beam to reach 196 for the first time this season. - Audrey Harrison also notched her sixth all-around title of the season and fourth in a row, scoring a 39.225.
Rifle - The Kentucky rifle team finished second at the Great America Rifle Conference over the weekend, shooting a 4690 over the course of the weekend. - Freshman Connor Davis won the GARC individual air rifle title, shooting a 596 before winning with a 105 in the Final. - Senior Henri Junghanel placed second overall individually with an aggregate score of 1179.
Softball - The UK softball team continued its winning ways over the weekend with a 3-0 record, taking down Georgetown, Howard and USC Upstate. - Sophomore catcher Griffin Joiner led the Wildcats offensively with a .583 (7-for-12) average with two doubles, two homers, eight RBI and four runs scored. - Pitchers Ellen Weaver, Katie Henderson and Kelsey Nunley all recorded wins, while Weaver going five strong innings, allowing only one hit and no runs against Georgetown and Henderson allowing only one hit over five innings against Howard. Nunley threw the final nine innings against Upstate to get the win.
Baseball - No. 8 Kentucky continued its season-opening six-game road trip with the Caravelle Resort Invitational, hosted by Coastal Carolina in Myrtle Beach. S.C., picking up wins over CCU and Elon and suffering its first loss of the year to Kansas State in the opener on Thursday. - UK finished the weekend with a ninth-inning win at Coastal Carolina, 2-2. - UK has hit .314 as a team through six games, slugging .435 and reaching base at a .311 clip. UK has stolen 12 bases and on the mound, owns a 3.57 ERA, with 16 walks and 42 strikeouts in 53 innings.
Track and field - The women's track and field team finished seventh in the SEC Indoor Championship team standings with 34 points, and the men finished 10th with 30. - Cally Macumber led all Wildcats with 15 points earned throughout the meet. Matt Hillenbrand led the men with 11.25. Macumber won the women's 3,000 meters SEC championship. - Hillenbrand won the SEC mile championship with a time of 4:01.55. Hillenbrand's time was a new personal best, and the seventh-fastest in school history. The junior became the first Kentucky athlete to win the SEC men's mile since David Freeman took home the title in 2004.
Men's tennis - The No. 6 men's tennis team traveled to Birmingham, Ala., this weekend and collected two wins in a doubleheader with Samford University and Jacksonville State, both by a score of 5-1, to move to 12-2 on the season. - No. 90 Anthony Rossi picked up his 93rd and 94th career wins in a UK uniform on Sunday with wins in both matches for the Wildcats. - Also picking up wins in both ends of the doubleheader for the Wildcats were Beck Pennington, Kevin Lai and Juan Pablo Murra.
Women's tennis - The Kentucky women's tennis team defeated the Miami (Ohio) RedHawks 5-2. - Freshman Nadia Ravita improved to 7-1 in the No. 1 singles slot after defeating Christiana Raymond 6-1, 6-2. - Senior Jessica Stiles and sophomore Stephanie Fox won their singles matches in straight sets, with Stiles winning 6-4, 6-3 and Fox taking the No. 6 singles point 6-3, 6-1. - The Wildcats moved into the rankings for the first time this season, landing in the No. 63 spot.
Men's golf - The Kentucky men's golf team opened up its 2013 spring season, placing 10th out of 16 teams in the Mobile Bay Intercollegiate. UK finished 37-over-par with a final score of 901. - Senior Chase Parker was the low golfer of the week for the Wildcats, finishing tied for 16th overall at 4-over-par. - Junior transfer Ben Stow made his Kentucky debut, placing tied for 27th at 6-over-par.
Swimming and diving - The UK men's and women's swimming and diving teams competed in the 2013 Southeastern Conference Swimming and Diving Championships last week with both the men (368.5) and the women (452.5) finishing in ninth place. - Junior diver Greg Ferrucci earned two second place finishes on the 1-meter and 3-meter springboard events and earned an eighth place on the platform. He broke the program record on the platform in the preliminaries with a 435.5. - Junior swimmer Lucas Gerotto broke multiple program records at the Championships including the 200-IM (1:47.20) and the 100-backstroke (47.29).
Thursday, Feb. 28 Women's basketball at Ole Miss - 8:00 p.m.
Friday, March 1 Softball vs. Illinois - 11:30 a.m. (Tampa, Fla.) Women's tennis at Arkansas - 1:00 p.m. Men's tennis hosts Arkansas - 1:00 p.m. Softball vs. USF - 2:00 p.m. (Tampa, Fla.) Baseball hosts Akron - 4:00 p.m. Track and field at NCAA Qualifying (South Bend, Ind./Fayetteville, Ark.)
Saturday, March 2 Baseball hosts Akron - Noon Softball vs. Loyola Marymount - 12:15 p.m. (Tampa, Fla.) Softball vs. Central Michigan - 2:45 p.m. (Tampa, Fla.) Baseball hosts Akron - 3:00 p.m. Men's basketball at Arkansas - 4:00 p.m. Swimming and diving at Last Chance Meet (Knoxville, Tenn./Athens, Ga.) Track and field at Last Chance Qualifier (Fayetteville, Ark.)
Sunday, March 3 Softball vs. Western Michigan - 9:00 a.m. (Tampa, Fla.) Men's tennis hosts LSU - 1:00 p.m. Women's tennis at LSU - 1:00 p.m. Gymnastics at Ball State - 1:00 p.m. Baseball hosts Akron - 1:00 p.m. Women's basketball hosts Tennessee - 3:30 p.m. Men's golf at USF Invitational (Tampa, Fla.) Swimming and diving at Last Chance Meet (Knoxville, Tenn./ Athens, Ga.)
Kentucky gymnastics produced the sixth-best score in program history at Florida, notching 196.075 for a season high. (Aaron Borton, UK Athletics)
Getting over the hump is a difficult task for teams on the cusp of something great. It takes painstaking effort, attention to detail and extreme focus to get to that point when that level of success has eluded a team all season long. Mentally, the challenge is even greater to get over the hump, as the longer it takes, the taller the hump often grows.
It took the Kentucky gymnastics team eight meets, but UK finally reached the summit of said "hump".
The Southeastern Conference acts like a monopoly at times with the amount of talented and elite teams it boasts in many varsity sports in the collegiate ranks. For example, football hasn't lost in the BCS Championship game for the last seven years. Baseball has won three of the last five College World Series. Oh, and an SEC gymnastics team has won seven of the last eight NCAA Championships.
In other words, it's tough to be an up and coming team in a such a dominant league.
It might take awhile for UK gymnastics to rise to the level of its most recent competitor, No. 1 Florida, or two-time defending NCAA champion Alabama. But the Cats are trying, and they are getting closer than they have ever been since the early 1990s, the days of All-American and three-time NCAA All-Around Champion Jenny Hansen.
For those who don't know the sport, it's, well, different. In most cases, a gymnastics team is not competing against the other teams it faces in a meet. Instead, teams perform for themselves and by themselves. Win/loss records are valued, but a greater emphasis is placed on team scores.
UK started off the 2013 season at a record pace, earning its highest score in a season-opening meet in school history. The Cats also earned their first SEC road win in decades. They've set the bar high (no uneven bars pun intended), so now the staff and the athletes themselves have higher expectations for this season.
There is still a lot of work yet to be done in 2013, but UK capped off its SEC slate with their first 196-plus score of the season in Gainesville, Fla., against the No. 1 Gators Friday night. The Wildcats weren't perfect, but that target of 196 was one that the team had been reaching for all season long.
Consider UK on top of the hump, trying to figure out where to go from here. Whether or not the Cats finally get over it or if they roll back down the side they've been climbing all season long is yet to be determined.
What the Wildcats can be excited about is that there is continued progress being shown on an almost weekly basis. Facing a litany of SEC powerhouses consecutively, Kentucky held its own and posted some season-high scores in the meantime. That progress was thwarted two weekends ago when No. 21 UK hosted an unranked Missouri team.
Kentucky turned in a season-high score on uneven bars that night and finished the evening off with a solid performance on floor exercise to nudge by the Tigers for UK's fifth win of the season. But UK was unrecognizable on balance beam and the Cats continued to underperform on vault.
After the meet against Missouri in which UK posted its lowest team score of the season, there was uncertainty as to how the Wildcats would respond against another SEC juggernaut back on the road for the first time in four weeks.
Though beam competitors struggled mightily against Missouri, beam has been one of the strongest and most consistent events of the season for UK. The main area concern from UK head coach Tim Garrison has been vault.
Garrison would say that vault should be his team's best event. To this point, it hasn't been. To this point, it's been frustrating. His team has only stuck four landings all season, a figure he believes should be much higher due the team's skill level and ability to stick dismounts at a higher rate in practice.
At Florida, vault turned back into UK's strength. Despite still not sticking a perfect landing in the event, the Cats walked away with a season-high score of 49.05. Garrison made lineup changes, including leading off with sophomore Sara Shipley who was competing for the first time in the event all season.
The lineup changes and the intensity of the preceding week's workout paid off as the team got back on track in a big way, including beam where UK posted its season-high score to polish of a final tally of 196.075, the sixth-best performance in program history.
With a Sunday meet at Ball State waiting this weekend, it is imperative for Kentucky to not relax as the Cats step outside of conference competition. After facing the best of the best over a five-week stretch, UK will have to continue to carry that intensity heading into the weekend and beyond.
If this team can pushits over the hump, there are potentially big things awaiting UK on the other side. A few more 196-plus performances this season, which the coaching staff believes is completely attainable, and the Wildcats will officially be over the hump and chasing greatness all the way to the NCAA Championships.
Shelby Hilton and the Wildcats are looking for more sticks on vault as they close out the SEC regular season at Florida. (Aaron Borton, UK Athletics)
For the first time in four weeks, the Kentucky gymnastics team will be back on the road this Friday. After facing three consecutive top-10 SEC teams, UK finally caught a break against unranked Missouri last weekend.
UK, however, will not have the luxury of easing back into road competition with the No. 1-ranked Florida Gators awaiting the Wildcats Friday night in Gainesville, Fla.
After building up quite a bit of momentum when UK reached its highest score of the season in a tie at home with No. 7 Georgia, the Wildcats took a step back in their progression against the Missouri Tigers. Through the first two events against Missouri, UK was on pace to reach 196 for the first time this season after a solid performance on vault and a season-high score 49.150 on the uneven bars.
But then misfortune bit the Cats in a nearly disastrous way.
Kentucky had three performers fall during their beam events, allowing Missouri to stay in the meet and almost pull off the upset. Kentucky went on to perform well enough to hold off the Tigers by 0.125 points to earn the victory despite the Cats' lowest overall output of the season.
The beam, however, is one of head coach Tim Garrison's lesser concerns. Instead, he's looking toward another event, one that has been so-so but far from their standards they've set in the practice gym.
"We need to get to the point of being precise enough to stick the vault and be able to compete it well," said Garrison. "If you look at what we've done just on that event alone, we've given away so many tenths this year. That can totally change our ranking right now."
UK, currently ranked No. 23, has had a very successful season by any measure. Garrison - and he hopes his athletes would agree - believes his team is capable of much more. Uneven bars have been a staple in meets so far this season, but it's the vault that is continuing to give the Cats trouble.
In UK's 42 (counted) vault performances, the Wildcats have only stuck four of those routines, a tick less than 10 percent
"That's not good enough," said Garrison.
By comparison, the impact of not sticking vault landings is equal to each floor exercise performer stepping out of bounds on each routine during a meet, costing a tenth of a point. While that may not seem like much, those tenths add up quickly, especially when a few tenths can mean the difference between a 195-plus and the first 196 of the season, a score that Garrison feels should come almost routinely.
"The potential of our team is 196.5 just on a normal day when the scores are normal and we do what we're supposed to do, we're a 196.5 team," said Garrison. "If they're scoring well, we could approach 197. We really could."
In order to do that, UK has to get off to a faster start. In home meets, Kentucky starts off on vault. A strong performance in the event could set the tone for the team's first "complete performance" of the season. Garrison says his team is still in search of that moment.
While UK is less concerned with beating Florida this weekend than handling its own business and putting up the best score of the season, if Kentucky makes the necessary jump on vault and continues to execute on bars, they could put some serious pressure on the top-ranked Gators.
On the road, UK will start on uneven bars, which may be beneficial to them since leading off with vault hasn't been the Cats' greatest strength the last four weeks at home. If UK can get through the first two events unscathed, it just might give the Cats a puncher's chance Friday night.
"You go over and rock bars at an away meet, like this weekend, if we go over and hit bars and then stick vault, now we're putting pressure on some of these other teams," said Garrison. "We've done a decent job of putting pressure on teams this year anyway, but we could be ahead. We could have better overall scores.
"It's not just the Missouri meet because I think beam has been great for us all year. We've been getting part, but not all of the events that we're doing, and that's not good enough. I said if we don't challenge, we could very easily miss out on some of our goals."
What Kentucky has going for is this weekend is the experience of performing in this type of environment already once this season. The Cats traveled to defending national champion Alabama before starting their four-meet home stand. It was a struggle for UK, but an experience the team needed.
Garrison believed his team was fully prepared to head into that environment technically, but the results proved otherwise. Now, with that experience in the Cats' back pocket, Friday night's atmosphere should be less of a factor.
If Kentucky finds itself in the situation where the Cats have to come from behind, well, they've been in that position this season already too.
"Unfortunately we've been in the position a couple of times this season where we've had to come back, and they've never given up on a competition regardless of what happened," said Garrison. "We're going to go down there and we're not going to lay down for anybody. I don't think this team will ever do that."
The Wildcats will need to get off to that fast start to hang with Florida Friday night. It will be a challenge, but one that UK is looking forward to. The Cats know what they are capable of; now it's time for them to execute on the big stage.
"If we start coming along on vault, our potential is greater as a team," said Garrison. "If we could start sticking our vaults, because our vaults are so much stronger than they were at the beginning of the year, we're capable of 49.2-49.3."
Men's basketball - The Kentucky men's basketball team dropped an 88-58 loss to Tennessee on Saturday. Sophomore Kyle Wiltjer led the Cats with 18 points and six rebounds. - Senior Julius Mays scored 12 points and has logged 10 or more points in five straight games. - Junior Jarrod Polson contributed a career-high 11 points.
Women's basketball - Kentucky has won its last three games and looks to keep its winning streak alive when it faces No. 11/13 Texas A&M on ESPN2's Big Monday in the second meeting of the season between the teams. - The Wildcats charted their 10th SEC win last week with an impressive come-from-behind victory over No. 16/14 South Carolina. Trailing by 16 points early in the second half, the Wildcats used a four-guard set to chip away at the Gamecocks' lead and win 78-74 - the largest comeback in the Matthew Mitchell era. - Four players scored in double digits led by redshirt sophomore point guard Jennifer O'Neill with 19.
Gymnastics - Then-No. 17 Kentucky defeated Missouri 194.250-194.125 on Friday night in Memorial Coliseum. - Audrey Harrison was the lone all-around competitor posting a 39.3, which tied her career-high set last week. - The junior also won balance beam, and shared the honors on uneven bars and floor exercise. - The Knoxville, Tenn., native now has 12 individual event honors this season and 19 in her career. - Her five all-around wins in 2013 have all come against Southeastern Conference competition. - Shannon Mitchell tied Harrison for the floor title, her second of the season and the third of her career.
Rifle - The Kentucky rifle team shot a 4697 on Saturday at the NCAA Qualifiers. - Sophomore Elijah Ellis and senior Stacy Wheatley delivered personal bests in smallbore, with Ellis posting a 583 and Wheatley shooting a 586. - Senior Henri Junghänel led the team in smallbore and air rifle, shooting a 588 in smallbore and a 594 in air rifle.
Softball - The No. 22/24 UK softball team continued where it left off last weekend by defeating another ranked team en route to a 4-1 record in the 23rd Campbell/Cartier Classic in San Diego. The Wildcats posted wins over No. 16 Washington, San Diego State - who is receiving votes in one poll - Cal Poly and UC Riverside. - Junior pitcher/infielder Lauren Cumbess paced the Wildcats throughout the weekend at the plate, blasting two homers for a .500 average (8-for-16) at the event with five RBI. Cumbess also went 1-0 in the circle, while freshman hurler Kelsey Nunley went 3-0 with a 2.21 ERA over the weekend. Nunley defeated San Diego State and Washington, throwing a complete game shutout against the Aztecs allowing only three hits. - UK has now defeated three ranked teams this season in then-No. 3 Cal, No. 16 Washington and No. 20 Stanford. Coach Rachel Lawson and Co. have also taken down Oregon State and SDSU, who both were receiving votes when UK posted wins against them. After two weekends of play, UK is 8-3 with its only losses coming to No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 3 Arizona State and unranked Portland State.
Baseball - Kentucky began the season 2-0 with wins over UNC Asheville and Niagara in Spartanburg, S.C. UK wraps up play at Wofford on Monday against USC Upstate. - Junior second baseman J.T. Riddle set a new program record with a 6-for-6 game at the plate and starter Jerad Grundy tied a career-best with nine strikeouts in six innings in the win over Niagara. - Sophomore All-America southpaw A.J. Reed worked five innings on the mound and went a career-best 4-for-5 at the plate with three RBI, leading No. 8 Kentucky to a 9-2 season-opening win over UNC Asheville.
Men's tennis - Kentucky advanced to the quarterfinals of the 2013 ITA National Team Indoor Championships this weekend in Seattle, recording wins over No. 10 Mississippi State (4-0), and No. 6 Georgia (4-2). - UK's No. 90 Anthony Rossi went 2-0 in singles action, defeating No. 12 Raymond Sarmiento of Southern Cal and knocking off No. 21 Nathan Pasha of Georgia 6-4, 7-6 (7) on Sunday. - With the wins this weekend, UK recorded their seventh win of the season over teams in the top 25 of the ITA rankings, as the Wildcats are now 3-1 versus teams in the top 10. - Tom Jomby also went 2-0 in singles play this weekend, collecting two straight-set wins. On Friday, Jomby ran past No. 43 Malte Stroppe of Mississippi State 6-2, 6-0 before giving UK a crucial point in its match with UGA, collecting a 6- 4, 6-4 win over No. 92 over No. 92 Ben Wagland at the two slot.
Women's tennis - The Kentucky women's tennis team knocked off No. 55 Ohio State and No. 54 Indiana throughout the course of the week, taking both matches 4-3. - Freshman Nadia Ravita recorded two singles win in the No. 1 slot to go along with two doubles wins in the No. 1 slot, paired with junior Caitlin McGraw. - Senior Jessica Stiles went 2-0 on the week in the No. 2 singles spot, taking both matches in straight sets.
Women's golf - The UK women's golf team began their 2013 spring season with an eighth place finish in the 15-team field at the Lady Puerto Rico Classic Feb. 10-12. - Senior Ashleigh Albrecht was the low finisher for the Wildcats, tying for 14th at 7-over-par. - Junior Liz Breed and freshman Sarah Harris were tied for 28th at 12-over, while freshman Cylia Damerau placed tied for 34th at 13-over.
Upcoming schedule Tuesday, Feb. 19 Women's tennis hosts Miami (OH) - 4:00 p.m. Swimming and diving at SEC Championships (College, Station, Texas) Men's golf at Mobile Bay Intercollegiate (Mobile, Ala.)
Wednesday, Feb. 20 Men's basketball hosts Vanderbilt - 8:00 p.m. Swimming and diving at SEC Championships (College, Station, Texas)
Thursday, Feb. 21 Swimming and diving at SEC Championships (College, Station, Texas)
Friday, Feb. 22 Baseball vs. Elon - Noon (Myrtle Beach, S.C.) Softball vs. Presbyterian - 2:00 p.m. (Spartanburg, S.C.) Gymnastics at Florida - 7:00 p.m. Swimming and diving at SEC Championships (College, Station, Texas) Track and field at SEC Championships (Fayetteville, Ark.)
Saturday, Feb. 23 Softball vs. Georgetown - Noon (Spartanburg, S.C.) Women's tennis at Kansas - 1:00 p.m. Softball vs. USC Upstate - 2:00 p.m. (Spartanburg, S.C.) Baseball vs. Coastal Carolina - 3:00 p.m. (Myrtle Beach, S.C.) Men's basketball hosts Missouri - 9:00 p.m. Swimming and diving at SEC Championships (College Station, Texas) Track and field at SEC Championships (Fayetteville, Ark.) Rifle at GARC Championships (Oxford, Miss.)
Sunday, Feb. 24 Softball vs. Howard - 10:00 a.m. (Spartanburg, S.C.) Men's tennis at Samford - 10:00 a.m. Baseball vs. Kansas State - 11:00 a.m. (Myrtle Beach, S.C.) Men's tennis vs. Jacksonville State - 2:00 p.m. (Birmingham, Ala.) Women's basketball at LSU - 3:00 p.m. Track and field at SEC Championships (Fayetteville, Ark.) Rifle at GARC Championships (Oxford, Miss.)