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

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

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

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

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

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

The momentum picked up from there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With just a day between a women's basketball game and gymnastics' first home meet of 2013, Kentucky's event staff had little time to turn Memorial Coliseum from a basketball venue to one that would host Excite Night at the Kentucky Classic. Take a look at this video time lapse to see how they got it done.


Audrey Harrison looks to build on her strong start to the 2013 season. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Audrey Harrison looks to build on her strong start to the 2013 season. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Kentucky gymnasts are not worried about the past. Nor should they be. After two impressive performances to start the 2013 season, the future is looking mighty bright.

The No. 14-ranked UK gymnastics team is on a historic pace. Kentucky's season opening score of 195.125 at California-Berkeley was the highest season-opening score in program history. The Wildcats took down the No. 13 and No. 19 teams in the country that weekend.

Last weekend, Kentucky did something it had not done since 1999. Facing Southeastern Conference foe Auburn for the second consecutive weekend, UK ran its record to 2-0 against the Tigers for the season and picked up their first SEC road win since the 1999 season.

Just two meets in with their third slated for Friday night's Excite Night at the Kentucky Classic and Kentucky is already rewriting program record books.

The athletes are enjoying it every step of the way. Breaking records and snapping streaks are not what the Cats set out for, but when they do, they embrace their success. Typically, however, they simply just go out and take care of business. What happens as a result is all gravy.

"We don't really factor in the history," said junior Kayla Hartley. "Really, we just do what we do. If we keep doing that, we're going to keep breaking more records."

Hartley is one of four juniors, the veterans on a team with no competing seniors and 11 sophomores and freshmen. On the floor, she's been one of the shining stars of the first two meets. She earned a career-high in the floor exercise at Cal-Berkeley with a 9.9. She performed another career-high routine on the uneven bars with a 9.75.

As she and her teammates continue to put up career numbers, the confidence, in both themselves and in one another, continues to grow.

"It's really exciting," said Hartley. "For me personally, just knowing where that hard work is coming from and it's paying off. Just to see the other girls achieve their goals and to see all their hard work during the preseason and in summer and everything to come together has been great."

The career-high numbers were bound to come. Kentucky boasts a youthful team with little experience. Even the juniors, who have spent two seasons competing in college, are finally getting comfortable with performing at an SEC level.

While Kentucky has seen its ranking jump from preseason No. 25 up 11 spots to No. 14, there is still plenty of room for improvement. That may not have been the case for past UK gymnastics teams, but this one is shooting for the stars.

"Even though we've been doing so well, I feel like we can do much better than we have been doing,"  said junior Audrey Harrison. "I'm excited for the rest of the season because I think we'll get even higher scores at every meet."

Harrison has seen that happen so far in each of the first two meets, specifically at Auburn when she earned a 39.2 to win the all-around competition with a 9.775 on the uneven bars, 9.8 on both the vault and balance beam, and a 9.85 on floor exercise.

Last year, in head coach Tim Garrison's first season, the team didn't know what to expect as the athletes and coaches were still working to learn more about each other. Last season, Kentucky hoped to do well. This season, doing well is an expectation.

"We were expecting to do well or even better than what we did because we practice so hard," said Harrison. "We do a lot of pressure sets in the gym so we know we can hit, so we expect to hit at the meets."

Performing under pressure was particularly hard last season considering UK's youth. Still a young team this season, the Cats have much more experience under their belts.

That experience, particularly considering schedule that Kentucky faces going up against the elite teams the SEC has to offer, has helped UK become what it is today. While Garrison and his staff try their best to replicate the pressure and simulate a competitive atmosphere, nothing can match the experience gained by performing where the lights shine the brightest.

"It's the experience of competing in front of the crowds and the fans and all the nerves that come with competing," said Hartley. "We can simulate it in the gym, but once you get out on the main floor, it's still different. Also, experience with knowing that you can do it inside the practice gym and taking it out onto the competition floor as well."

The practice sessions have certainly helped though. Both Hartley and Harrison harped on the fact that this team came into the season more prepared than in any in the past. Summer and preseason workouts with purpose and precision have led to results. But it's also been the competitive nature of the workouts that have brought out the best in one another.

With the depth as great as it's been in the UK gymnastics program in some time, the competitive spirit shows up not only on the day of the meet, but also in the practice gym. With starting lineup spots up for grabs, everyone is giving their best efforts, and it's making the team that much better.

"The competition within each other is developing big time," said Hartley. "I've noticed it this year so much more than any year that I've been here. You can tell that people want the lineup spots this year and we're fighting for them."

As Kentucky continues to progress through the early stages of its 2013 schedule, it will need to continue to build on what they bring each week. Garrison has made it a point of emphasis for his team to be as consistent as possible to pick up some of the tenths of points he thinks his team is leaving out on the floor.

Kentucky has the chance to take down another ranked opponent Friday night when the Cats welcome SEC opponent and No. 9 ranked Arkansas to Lexington, Ky. In seasons past Hartley may have looked at Arkansas and been overwhelmed by her completion. These days the emphasis on Kentucky.

"I just take care of what I need to do," said Hartley. "I don't really pay attention to who I'm competing against. I just do what I need to do and do it for the team and hope for the best."

Kentucky continues to look ahead to where they can go without spending much time on what they've done in the past. Though the Cats need to understand the mistakes they've made in their first two meets, their main focus is on how to correct them in the future. With a great emphasis on consistency, the Wildcats feel like they still have room to grow.

"We just have to keep doing what we're doing and not give away any tenths by sticking landings and tight knees," said Harrison. "Just keep doing that and we'll get better every meet."

Video: 2013 gymnastics introduction

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On Friday at 7 p.m., the No. 14 Kentucky gymnastics team opens its home schedule with an "Excite Night" meet against Arkansas in Memorial Coliseum. Here's the video that will be shown to introduce the Wildcats.


Kentucky Sports Report (week of Jan. 14)

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Men's basketball
• Kentucky dropped its first SEC home opener in the John Calipari era to the hot-shooting Texas A&M Aggies behind a 40-point effort from Elston Turner on Saturday.
• UK freshman Nerlens Noel had his best game in the blue and white with 15 points, 11 rebounds, seven blocks, six assists and four steals. He's the first player in the NCAA to put up those numbers in a single game since 1996-97.
• Sophomore Ryan Harrow scored in double-figures in the sixth-straight game with 14 points, while freshman Archie Goodwin led the squad with 17 points.

Women's basketball

• No. 6/6 Kentucky improved to 16-1 overall, 4-0 in the SEC and increased its school-record winning streak to 15 after hard-fought wins over the league's newest members No. 20/21 Texas A&M (65-52) and Missouri (69-43) last week.
• Against the Aggies, the Wildcats rallied from a six-point half time deficit, using its tenacious defense along with the hot shooting of reigning SEC Player of the Year A'dia Mathies and redshirt sophomore point guard Jennifer O'Neill. Mathies hit three of her four 3-pointers in the second half for 11 of her season-high 23 points, while O'Neill added 15 points and a career-high eight assists in the win.
• The Cats traveled to Missouri for the first time in program history on Sunday and again, it was their pressure defense that sealed the victory and snapped the Tigers' 11-game home winning streak. The Tigers, who came into the game leading the nation in 3-pointers made per game with 9.9, were limited to a season-low two 3-pointers. UK also held Missouri's Morgan Eye, the nation's leading 3-point shooter, to just six points and zero treys for the first time this season.

Gymnastics
• The University of Kentucky gymnastics team performed solidly on all four events to gather an overall team score of 195.525, in a win at Auburn on Friday night.
• The win was Kentucky's first SEC road victory in a dual meet since 1999, and the first SEC season-opening win since 2008.
• The Wildcats are off to the best start in school history as they've compiled two straight scores more than 195 to begin a season for the first time ever.
• Junior Audrey Harrison posted a 39.2 to win her first career SEC dual all-around competition, and her fifth career all-around title.
• Overall, Kentucky earned 13 season or career-high scores in the meet.

Rifle

• The Kentucky rifle team won its first match of the spring Sunday with a 4705 - 4687 victory over No. 4 Alaska-Fairbanks.
• Senior Henri Junghänel led the Wildcats with an aggregate score of 1184, delivering a 590 in smallbore to go along with a 594 in air rifle.
• The Wildcats had a strong showing across the board in air rifle with all six shooters breaking the 590 barrier.

Track and field
• Bradley Szypka, Cally Macumber and Darryl Bradshaw dazzled the home crowd in Nutter Field House as all three took event titles on Saturday at the Kentucky Invitational, the Wildcats' first home meet of the season.
• Szypka won the shot put for the second consecutive meet with a personal record of 18:36m/60-03.0, which came on his final throw. The mark gave him the No. 4 shot put in the nation this season as of Saturday evening.
• Macumber won the mile in PR time of 4:42.30, as she pulled away from the field, which included two unattached runners who competed in the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials at 800 meters.
• The cross country All-American's time - in her first run of the indoor season - currently ranks as second-fastest mile in the country this season.
• Bradshaw won the men's 60-meter hurdles in 8:07, while Brandon Bagley took fifth in the event with a time of 8.24.
• Kadeem Kushimo also turned in a PR time of 47.85 in the 400m, which was the best run by a collegiate competitor in the event. The sophomore finished second overall.

Upcoming schedule


Tuesday, Jan. 15
Men's basketball hosts Tennessee - 7:00 p.m.

Thursday, Jan. 17
Women's basketball hosts Mississippi State - 7:00 p.m.

Friday, Jan. 18
Track and field at New Mexico Cherry & Silver (Alburquerque, N.M.) - 6:00 p.m.
Gymnastics hosts Arkansas - 7:00 p.m. (Excite Night)

Saturday, Jan. 19
Women's tennis hosts Morehead State - 10:00 a.m.
Track and field at New Mexico Cherry & Silver (Alburquerque, N.M.) - 11:00 a.m.
Women's tennis hosts Belmont - 6:00 p.m.
Men's basketball at Auburn - 9:00 p.m.
Rifle vs. Memphis (Oxford, Miss.)

Sunday, Jan. 20
Men's tennis hosts Northern Kentucky - 11:00 a.m.
Women's basketball hosts Auburn - 2:00 p.m.
Men's tennis hosts Morehead State - 5:00 p.m.
Men's golf at Alumni Match (Palm Beach, Fla.)
Rifle at Ole Miss

Kayla Hartley picked up her fourth-career victory on the floor at California-Berkeley. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Kayla Hartley picked up her fourth-career victory on the floor at California-Berkeley. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
The No. 25 Kentucky gymnastics team achieved a program-best season-opening score in its meet at California-Berkeley last weekend. Several gymnasts earned career-high scores on the way to a second-place finish, scoring 195.125 while defeating the No. 13 and No. 19 teams in the country.

Head coach Tim Garrison thinks his team has only scratched the surface.

Despite the early success, the meet was far from perfect. Garrison said his team made uncharacteristic, head-scratching mistakes. Mistakes that head he had never seen some of his athletes make before. They even had to count a fault in their final score.

With all of those mishaps, Kentucky still managed to record its highest season-opening score ever to finish second behind Cal, while defeating No. 13 Auburn and No. 19 Arizona.

In all actuality, it was a huge day for the Wildcats as they started off with a bang. Garrison knows it. They're excited about their start with a strong foundation to build from the rest of the way.

"Well, going up against the No. 13 team, the No. 19 team and coming out ahead, that obviously makes us feel good," said Garrison.

He also knows that he and his athletes can't be satisfied. Not with what he witnesses in the practice gym on a daily basis.

Garrison and his staff have since gone back and watched each routine with each gymnast. They have looked at the mistakes to see where they can pick up a few extra tenths in their scores. Those points add up quickly if each athlete can correct one or two small mistakes in their routines.

If those mistakes can be corrected, more record-setting scores could follow.

"We broke down our routines from the meet and we talked about each little mistake that happened," said Garrison. "We watched video with the kids and talked about each little mistake, and the mistakes that we could get back and the tenths we could get back. And we're projecting scores that this program hasn't seen."

Garrison is excited, but it's tempered by a desire to see his team go from a good team to a potentially great one. There are points out there to be had and mistakes to be fixed. That potential is yet to be realized.

"Just seeing how much they've grown to this point and seeing what I see every day in practice," said Garrison. "I see hints of brilliance, but I don't see the finished package yet. I obviously didn't see it last weekend."

How does Garrison hope to get there? He needs to see consistency while his team builds confidence with experience. The head coach can only do so much in the gym, but the athletes will really start to make strides as they gain more competitive experience.

The environment of a meet is not replicable in the practice facility, no matter how hard they try to simulate it. As the season goes on, Garrison expects this team to continue to transform and could have a completely different identity by the end of the season.

That will all stem from experience. It's a young team with no seniors competing this season. They have five freshmen and five sophomores. Competitive experience will be the key ingredient the rest of the way.

"We need experience now," said Garrison. "But we need competitive experience which is not something I can give them until the season starts. That's why we're so happy that we're finally underway."

Despite the team's lack of experience, the first competition of the season showed the strides that this team has made from the end of last season. The offseason training and hard work certainly paid off.

Audrey Harrison, Kayla Hartley, Alexis Gross and Kayla Sienkowski all notched career highs in the opener.

"They had excellent routines," said Garrison. "I think that their confidence has grown because they worked their tails off in the summertime. They worked hard in the preseason, and now it's been validated."

Kentucky didn't have much time to dwell on the performance in California because the Cats had just two days of practice to get ready for a Southeastern Conference meet at Auburn. The Wildcats will take on the Tigers Friday at 8 p.m. ET for the second time in a week. That familiarity, though, means little when it comes to preparing for Friday's meet.

Kentucky is only concerned with itself.

"They're going to do what they do; we can't affect their performance," said Garrison of Auburn. "Do we have confidence going against them? I don't know. But we have confidence in ourselves, which is way more important as far as I'm concerned."

The meet at Auburn will give Kentucky another opportunity to get better against high-level competition. The Wildcats are where Garrison hoped they would be at this point in the season, but his high hopes are based on a projected high ceiling. If everything falls into place, this could be a special season.

"When you get in the gym and you start seeing what kind of athletes you have and what they're capable of, and whether they're coaching or not," said Garrison. "There are a lot of variables to it.

"A lot of it was up in the air. A lot of balls that you had to juggle and put in the right spots, and I think we're close to winning the lottery. I think we're close to the right spot. But there's obviously still a lot of work to do. But we're heading in the right direction, that's for sure."

Kentucky Sports Report (week of Jan. 7)

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Men's basketball
- The Wildcats will open up conference play on the road for the fourth time in the last 10 years and the second time in the John Calipari era with a date at Vanderbilt on Thursday. UK defeated Eastern Michigan in dominating fashion to conclude non-conference action.
- Freshman Alex Poythress had 16 points, sophomore Ryan Harrow passed out eight assists and freshman Willie Cauley-Stein had a double-double to lead the way.
- Kentucky shot 51.7 percent against the Eagles marking the fifth time this season UK has eclipsed the 50 percent mark. UK is undefeated in those contests.
- The Wildcats also secured a season-high 52 rebounds, and limited Eastern Michigan to 38 points and a 24.2 percent field-goal percentage which ranks as the fewest points and lowest percentage in the John Calipari era.

Women's basketball

- No. 6/6 Kentucky is 2-0 to start SEC play for the second straight season after wins over Florida and Alabama last week. In the Florida game, UK broke the school record for consecutive wins in a single season (12) and tied the school record for consecutive home wins (30) with a 76-69 win over the Gators.
- Four players scored in double digits led by the reigning SEC Player of the Year A'dia Mathies' season-high 20 points against the Gators. She also dished out four assists and took a team-high four charges in the game.
- The Cats then traveled to Tuscaloosa, Ala., for the their SEC road opener, picking up their 13th straight win with a hard-fought victory over Alabama 87-70. Five players broke into the double-digit scoring column and three Wildcats had double-figure rebounds.
- Junior center DeNesha Stallworth got her second straight double-double with a game-high 19 points to go along with 10 rebounds in just 21 minutes of action. Mathies scored all 17 of her points in just 16 minutes of the second half, nailing a career-high-tying five 3-pointers.

Gymnastics
- The No. 25 University of Kentucky gymnastics team notched the program's best-ever score at a season-opening meet on Sunday. The Wildcats totaled 195.125 to finish second in the quad meet behind Cal's 195.425. Arizona finished third (194.825) and Auburn was fourth (194.625).
- Kentucky completed the afternoon with a total score more than 195 at the season's first meet for the first time in school history. The Wildcats also enjoyed a day of individual triumphs and firsts as Audrey Harrison set a career-high on uneven bars with a 9.9 to finish in a tie for first on the event. Kayla Hartley tied a career-high of 9.9 to win floor. Harrison's bars title was the first of her career in the event, while she also ran her career tally of individual titles to eight. Hartley now has four career individual titles, all on beam.
- Alexis Gross set a career-high with a 9.875. Kayla Sienkowski and Hartley both also had career-performances as both picked up scores of 9.75. Sienkowski was competing on bars for the first time in her UK career. Shelby Hilton rounded out the action on bars with a 9.725.

Swimming and diving
- Junior diver Greg Ferrucci picked up a win on the 3-meter springboard at the Tennessee Diving Invitational on Friday with a winning score of 410.85.
- Junior swimmer Lucas Gerotto earned two wins at LSU Saturday. He picked up a win in the 100-backstroke finishing at 50.41. He also remained unbeaten in dual meets in the 100-butterfly with a winning time of 49.37.

Upcoming schedule

Thursday, Jan. 10

Women's basketball hosts Texas A&M - 6:00 p.m.
Men's basketball at Vanderbilt - 9:00 p.m.

Friday, Jan. 11

Gymnastics at Auburn - 8:00 p.m.
Track and field hosts Kentucky Invitational

Saturday, Jan. 12
Men's basketball hosts Texas A&M - 4:00 p.m.
Track and field hosts Kentucky Invitational

Sunday, Jan. 13
Women's basketball at Missouri - 1:30 p.m.
Rifle vs. Alaska-Fairbanks (Murray, Ky.)

Gymnastic head coach Tim Garrison starts his second season at UK on Saturday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Gymnastic head coach Tim Garrison starts his second season at UK on Saturday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Tim Garrison's Kentucky gymnastics team is going to California. Berkeley to be more specific. It's not vacation, but there are worse ways to start a gymnastics season.

The Wildcats' trip to the San Francisco Bay Area will be anything but a sight-seeing trip, however. Kentucky heads west Saturday morning, flying out of Cincinnati to reach the final destination of the University of California-Berkeley on Saturday evening. It will be a quick, two-day trip.

A trip with purpose.

"It's going to be more business," said Garrison. "So we're going to get up in the morning, have breakfast at the hotel. We're going straight to the venue after that. We're going to have lunch at the venue. And then we're going to start warming up and get after it."

While some might say it's a difficult task to have the first meet of the season all the way across the country on the West Coast, Garrison would tell them that they are exactly right. That's the very reason he chose to do it.

In athletics, in life, there is always adversity. At some point during a road trip, whether it's during travel, during a meet, during practice, something out of the ordinary, something unplanned for, is likely to come up and affect performance. While many coaches would try to control their environments as much as possible to limit distractions and interference, Garrison does the opposite.

"Really, I like to create adversity," said Garrison. "I know that sounds strange. We create adversity in (the practice facility) all the time."

Garrison says that during practice he'll shake up the order of their events. Sometimes he will give his gymnasts a shortened period of time to warm up with no warning, all in an effort to help his team prepare for the unexpected.

He sees this Saturday's meet at Cal as an opportunity to take on adversity from the onset of the season. The early-morning travel, the long flight, the quick turnaround and the opponents they'll see will all present early-season challenges for the UK squad.

"I think it kind of creates a little bit of adversity, which is something I want them to face head on," said Garrison. "And I think they will."

Garrison has good reason for believing his team will be up for the task this weekend. He likes what he sees from his team, even after taking some time off over the holidays.

The holidays always present a challenge for coaches as they are not allowed to require athletes to stay on campus to train, but they always encourage them to train on their own at home. Whether or not they do as their told is always in question.

Early indications show that Garrison's athletes stayed disciplined during their time off.

"I asked them to a person when they came back, and they were all 'Yep, went in, trained, everything was good,' " Garrison said. "And not only that, when they came back and were training here, you could tell that they had."

The distractions of the holiday season can make it difficult to get work done, especially when athletes are used to training with their teammates in a controlled environment. Their willingness to continue to work is exactly why Garrison believes they will get off to a good start in 2013.

"It makes me feel good because I know that they care," said Garrison. "They're excited about what we're doing. They're excited about where this team is and where we could be at the end of the season. I think that's huge for them because they have bought in 100 percent."

The talent and skill are there. The athletes feel good about their gymnastics, their routines and their teammates. If they can hone in on their consistency, Garrison and his team will have had a fruitful trip out West when they take on Cal, Auburn and Arizona.

"I think it's important for us to be consistent," said Garrison. "It's a subjective sport, so you never can tell where you're going to end up score-wise at the end of the day, but you need to be consistent.

"We need to be able to go out there, put six out there at every event. I would like to hit six routines per event. I would like to come out of there hitting 24. If we can do that, then I'll be happy."

Tim Garrison is looking to take the No. 25 Wildcats to new heights in 2012-13. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Tim Garrison is looking to take the No. 25 Wildcats to new heights in 2012-13. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
There is always a level of uncertainty for a first-year head coach. The struggle of getting to know the team members, building a staff and rebuilding a program is no walk in the park, and much of what that new coach deals with is unexpected.

Kentucky gymnastics head coach Tim Garrison has now had time to appreciate and let his first season leading his program sink in. It was an important one, as all inaugural seasons are. He looked to set a tone and a base for what he wanted his program to become.  

He started with the training regimen of his athletes, including how they practiced, conditioned and ate. The changes in the structure but also the philosophy paid dividends.

Under Garrison, his gymnasts helped Kentucky reach new heights. For the first time in school history, Kentucky posted three consecutive scores of 195.875 or above. It was the Wildcats' best three-meet stretch in program history. And Garrison became the first Kentucky head coach in program history to lead his team to a top-25 ranking in his first season.

Kentucky finished as the No. 25 team in the country last season. That's where they'll begin the 2012-13 season.

The gymnastics team will hold its first meet in Memorial Coliseum as it hosts the Blue/White Meet this Thursday at 6 p.m. After holding the first intra-squad scrimmage at the team's practice facility Nov. 16, Garrison likes the way his team competed.

He's looking for that same type of competitive spirit when they hit the Memorial Coliseum floor in front of an actual crowd Thursday night.

"We've done a really good job of preparing to this point," said Garrison. "Now it's just about getting out there and competing and showing it, getting in front of a crowd in a competitive venue, our home venue on hard surfaces and see what they do. It will be an interesting wrinkle on it this time going in Memorial for the first time."

But above and beyond being competitive, Garrison is looking to build on last season's experience and creating a higher level of consistency, an area Garrison feels can be a strength for his team.

"I fully expect them to be consistent this year," said Garrison. "I'm hoping that, beyond anything, is our strength: the consistency of how we perform. We might not be a 9.9 every event, every time, but I'm expecting that we're consistent with what we do."

For most teams, leaders are in charge of creating that competitive atmosphere and keeping everyone consistent. Those are two attributes that most, if not all, coaches preach to their teams. The head coach and his staff can only preach it so much, so it's up the athletes to perform, carry out the plan and lead one another.

The burden of those duties is often left to the seniors and upperclassmen, but Kentucky was a very young team last year in Garrison's initial season. The leadership came from within and the Cats found their way despite the youth at key positions in their lineup. Their experience and leadership took a hit as they began to prepare for their second season under Garrison's tutelage.

In August, rising senior Caitlyn Ciokajlo suffered an injury in workouts that would put her in the hospital and eventually end her gymnastics career. Ciokajlo is making an inspiring and triumphant recovery as she continues her road back to health.

The initial shock of the injury, however, was a setback for the team. Now the team is trying to move on without one of its fiercest competitors.

"We've had some time to heal," said Garrison. "That's important, I think. The closer to the season that happens the more of a shock it is and the less time you have to compensate for it.

"I don't think we'll ever be able to compensate for her completely because she was such a strong competitor, on bars especially, and is such a force in the gym. She is still around the gym. She's still a part of the training. She's there in person, which I think is a help."

As she continues her school at the University of Kentucky, she's also decided to maintain and involvement with her team to help the Cats cope with losing their teammate and senior leader.

"She's taken an active role in conditioning some athletes," said Garrison. "She's helping us with some video work. And then, you know, we'll ask her opinion every now and then on certain things."

With Ciokajlo sidelined, Garrison and his team will turn to the four juniors on the roster to help lead the way. That should be no problem, however, as they are already veterans in their own right. As part of last season's youth movement, those sophomores-turned-juniors saw plenty of action in competition.

Garrison has no problem leaning on his junior class to take a hold of leadership responsibilities.

"They bring a lot to the table," said Garrison. "They've had two years of competitive experience and because the team was so young last year, they got a lot of experience competing last year. So I would say they're seasoned. I'm expecting a lot from them in the leadership role this year."

With a roster full of 10 freshmen and sophomores, Kentucky will be young once again. But after getting to spend his first full offseason with his team since taking over the program, Garrison now fully knows what to expect from his team, as do his athletes of him and his staff.

The offseason was a great learning experience for both the staff and the athletes, and now Garrison feels like he has this thing going in the right direction and it's time for this team to take the next step in the Southeastern Conference.

"I'm very proud of what this team did last year, but that was just a baby step," said Garrison. "It's trying to level off. That's what we're trying to do. Let's get some consistency and then this year, we're trying to take a bigger step."

In order for that to happen, this team will need to continue to build and already strong team chemistry that seems to be growing each day in practice. It's a group of wide-ranging personalities that all fit in perfectly with Garrison's plan. If the chemistry is truly as strong as Garrison believes it to be, that could be plenty to help Kentucky reach the levels of competition and consistency that the Cats are seeking.

However they hope to be successful this season, the Cats expect it's going to take a full team effort to help them reach their goals.

"There's all different mentalities on the team," said Garrison. "I think we have people that are just aggressive people that will get up in people's faces and say you've got this. Then we have other people who are passive and lead by example.

"I think it's a total group effort. I really do, because we need all the different personalities to mesh and bring the chemistry it takes to be a competitive team. I really feel we have that."

The SEC Digital Network is continuing its "40/40" series, which is a celebration of women in Southeastern Conference athletics since the passing of Title IX 40 years ago. Former Kentucky stars Jenny Hansen (gymnastics) and Valerie McGovern (track and field/cross country) have already been featured as a part of the series, but Tuesday was Valerie Still's turn.

Still is the all-time leading scorer in UK basketball history - men's and women's - and was the leader on the school's SEC title team in 1982. Written by Tim Letcher, this story gives some interesting perspective on Still's time as a Wildcat:

Still didn't know exactly what she was getting into when she arrived in Lexington. "I didn't even know about Kentucky basketball, men or women," she says. "All we knew was that they had a pretty good football team at the time, because Art was on it. We thought it was a football school," she says with a chuckle.
In the fall of 1979, Still embarked on what would be a record-breaking career. She led Kentucky in scoring all four years of her career. When she scored her 1,599th point as a junior, she passed Pam Browning to become the leading scorer in Kentucky women's basketball history.

"Pam was in that first group when they brought the program back (in 1974), and she was just inducted into the UK Hall of Fame this September," Still says. "When I came in, you knew Pam Browning if you knew women's basketball. She was a pretty special athlete."

"Passing Pam was pretty significant for me," Still says. "When I came to UK, one of the things I liked doing was, I'd take a look at the media guides and I'd look in the back and see who had the records, and she (Browning) had all of the records. And I thought it would be kind of nice if I could get my name in there."

Not only did Still get her name in the record books, she shattered nearly all of the women's basketball records at Kentucky. In addition to points and rebounds in a career, she holds school records for points in a game (42), rebounds in a game (27), field goals made in a career (1,118) and free throws made in a career (527), just to mention a few.

As she started to place her names among the greatest women's basketball players in Kentucky history, Still accomplished something that most people probably didn't expect.

In a game against Miami (Ohio) on December 5, 1982, Still scored her 2,139th career point, passing Issel as Kentucky's all-time scoring leader, man or woman.

When asked what she remembered about the moment, Still says, "Not a lot. I think when you're young and doing things, I was sort of limited in my knowledge. I was just doing something that I loved doing, and something incredible happened."

The story goes on to talk about life after UK for Still, touching on her professional career and now her career as an author. Take a look.

Link: SEC 40/40: She's Still the One

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