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.
This week, the SEC Digital Network has been celebrating the 40th anniversary of Title IX with "40/40," a celebration of women's athletics in the Southeastern Conference designed to bring awareness to Title IX.
Already, a pair of former University of Kentucky greats have been profiled. First was gymnast Jenny Hansen, the NCAA's first-even three-time All-Around national champion. The piece by Tim Letcher tells of Hansen's journey from her home in Wisconsin to champion to her ongoing comeback. Here's an excerpt about her surprise NCAA title as a freshman:
Despite the fact that she was recruited by powerhouse programs like Alabama, Florida and LSU, Hansen was not expected to be a major factor as a freshman. However, she quickly established herself as one of the top gymnasts in the country, competing in the always-tough SEC.
"I did really well my first year, it was really fun," Hansen says. "It was like a progression. I was learning new skills, I had new friends. I was continually having fun, therefore I continually won."
In fact, Hansen made it all the way to the NCAA meet in Corvallis, Ore. as a freshman. Once she got there, she faced some stiff competition.
"It was so unreal to me, because of the people I was competing against," Hansen says. "There was Dee Dee Foster (from Alabama, the 1990 NCAA All-Around champion), Hope Spivey (1991 NCAA All-Around champion from Georgia), Dana Dobrasky (another Alabama All-American), all of these girls were so big in college gymnastics at the time, and I was competing against them."
Not only did Hansen compete against them, she beat them all, claiming the 1993 NCAA All-Around championship as a freshman.
McGovern starred as a runner at UK a few years before Hansen arrived, and her journey to Lexington was quite unique. A native of Ireland, she transferred to Kentucky after the women's cross country program at Austin Peay was disbanded. Mark Maloney has the story:
McGovern had a few partial scholarship offers to transfer, but an Austin Peay teammate suggested she check out Kentucky. The Wildcats had a very good and young group of female distance runners.
She spoke with UK assistant coach Gene Weis, but didn't get a scholarship offer until she was home in Ireland.
For a second time, in 1988, she committed to a college that she had never visited: Kentucky.
McGovern -- now Dr. Valerie McGovern Young and living in Novato, Calif., a bit north of San Francisco -- would go on to become one of UK's and the Southeastern Conference's distance-running legends.
Right off the bat, she helped the Wildcats win the 1988 NCAA Cross Country Championships.
She would win three NCAA individual titles at 5,000 meters, earning All-America honors eight times in cross country and track. She won eight SEC titles and still holds five school records.
For recently retired UK head coach Don Weber, McGovern remains one of his all-time favorites.
When her head coach at UK, Don Weber, retired earlier this month, he couldn't help but mention two of the stars on the 1988 national championship team.
"You've got people like Lisa Breiding and Valerie McGovern, who were the sweetest, nicest people you'd ever run across," he said. "I remember, it kind of bothered me in athletics, and I don't see it as much anymore, but all the chest-thumping, macho stuff. Being a great competitor is much more about brain power than it is brawn.
"And seeing some of the sweetest, nicest young women being the most competitive, daring -- it was inspiring to watch. ... That's the best thing about coaching."
UK Athletics may be in the middle of the offseason, but that doesn't mean its athletes aren't working hard to prepare themselves for next year. If anything, Wildcats from the women's basketball, softball, women's tennis, women's soccer, volleyball and gymnastics teams are working harder than they do during the season.
Kentucky strength and conditioning coach Stephanie Tracey-Simmons is putting athletes through each of those teams through an intense set of summer workouts. The workouts are designed to build strength, endurance and confidence for the upcoming season, but they also have effect of unifying teammates and creating bonds across sports. Jen Smith from the Lexington Herald-Leader has the story:
The UK strength and conditioning coach says it's not her mission to make athletes miserable. She wants to make them tougher and stronger, more confident.
"I always tell the basketball players, 'You guys hate me now, but you're going to love me in March,'" Simmons says.
By the time basketball season rolls around and the season starts in November, Simmons is sure of one thing. "They will have the confidence that they can run anyone in the country down and wear them out."
There's a competitive portion to the summer workouts. At the end of it, each sport's coach is provided with a chart of how each player finished, not only individually, but also against players from the other participating sports.
"It's a big competition at the end of the summer to see whose team performed the best," says Bria Goss, a sophomore guard on the basketball team. "Also, individually you're competing against other sports. We all push each other and get better."
Earlier this week, the Southeastern Conference unveiled its Winter Academic Honor Roll. To be named to the list, student-athletes must have a grade point average of 3.00 or above for either the preceding academic year have a cumulative GPA of 3.00, among other criteria.
Forty-three Kentucky Wildcats were named to the Honor Roll, the fourth-highest total of any SEC school. Student-athletes from six different teams earned spots. Men's and women's swimming and diving led the way with 14 and 10 honorees each. Gymnastics and rifle each had six, while men's and women's basketball had four and three respectively.
Congratulations to all these Wildcats for their hard work and achievement in the classroom!
See below for a list of all 43 along with their majors.
Twany Beckham - M. Basketball - Communication Terrence Jones - M. Basketball - Communication Darius Miller - M. Basketball - Community Communications and Leadership Development Jarrod Polson - M. Basketball - Finance Kastine Evans - W. Basketball - Business Management Amber Smith - W. Basketball - Family Sciences Keyla Snowden - W. Basketball - Media Arts and Studies Caitlyn Ciokajlo - Gymnastics - Kinesiology/Exercise Science Audrey Harrison - Gymnastics - Business Management Kayla Hartley - Gymnastics - Hospitality Management and Tourism Storey Morris - Gymnastics - Community Communications and Leadership Development Whitney Rose - Gymnastics - Business Management Kayla Sienkowski - Gymnastics - Merchandising, Apparel, and Textiles Dayna Ferguson - Rifle - French Heather Greathouse - Rifle - Psychology Emily Holsopple - Rifle - Biology Henri Junghanel - Rifle - Mechanical Engineering Ed Ryznar - Rifle - Mechanical Engineering Stacy Wheatley - Rifle - Nursing John Bullock - M. Swimming and Diving - Finance/Business Management Greg Ferrucci - M. Swimming and Diving - Kinesiology/Exercise Science John Fox - M. Swimming and Diving - Political Science Blake Freeman - M. Swimming and Diving - Biology Travis Green - M. Swimming and Diving - Biology William Heidler - M. Swimming and Diving - Chemistry Luke Iannuzzi - M. Swimming and Diving - Biology Jonathan Keltner - M. Swimming and Diving - Finance/Business Management Pat Kemme - M. Swimming and Diving - Family Sciences Zack Peterson - M. Swimming and Diving - Kinesiology/Exercise Science Tyler Reed - M. Swimming and Diving - Secondary Education Matt Russell - M. Swimming and Diving - Psychology Maclin Simpson - M. Swimming and Diving - Marketing/Business Management Jacob Thomas - M. Swimming and Diving - Kinesiology/Exercise Science Claire Archibald - W. Swimming and Diving - Accounting Catherine Brueckbauer - W. Swimming and Diving - Marketing Megan Eppler - W. Swimming and Diving - Accounting Lindsay Lash - W. Swimming and Diving - Elementary Education Anna Mattox - W. Swimming and Diving - Communication Disorders Marisa McGlynn - W. Swimming and Diving - Marketing Chelsea Peterson - W. Swimming and Diving - Biology Jenna Willis - W. Swimming and Diving - Psychology Kristen Wilson - W. Swimming and Diving - Finance Samantha Wright - W. Swimming and Diving - Psychology
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Apr. 8:
Softball: Brittany Cervantes
Senior Brittany Cervantes exploded offensively for the Wildcats during a critical SEC series this weekend. Cervantes batted .500 against South Carolina while blasting three home runs, scoring five times and driving in four runs in helping UK keep pace in the hunt for the SEC Tournament. Cervantes, UK's career home run leader, had struggled early this season with finding her offensive rhythm and had hit just two home runs in her first 36 games this season. She then became the first UK player this season to hit home runs in three consecutive games - also a career-best for UK's all-time power leader. Cervantes batted in the leadoff spot this weekend and in the rubber game with the Gamecocks on Sunday, she watched the visitor's plate two runs in the top half of the first and answered with her second leadoff homer of the series to jump-start UK's offensive effort en route to plating 10 scores for the first time this season against league competition.
Gymnastics: Caitlyn Ciokajlo
Had a strong showing for Kentucky on uneven bars, posting a career-high tying 9.875 on the event at the NCAA Regional. The high mark placed the junior in fifth place overall at the event.
Baseball: Austin Cousino
Centerfielder Austin Cousino continued to pace the top offensive unit in college baseball atop the batting order, leading UK to a series win over No. 10 Ole Miss and a midweek win over Dayton during a four-game week ... Cousino hit .412 (7-for-17) with four runs, three doubles and three RBI, adding two walks and stealing a base ... In the series opener vs. Dayton, Cousino went 2-for-4 with a pair of runs, a double, a walk and an RBI ... In the series opener vs. Ole Miss, Cousino added a double and a walk , also collecting a hit in the second game of the set ... In the series-clinching win on Sunday, Cousino went 3-for-5 with a double and an RBI, including a rally-sparking leadoff single in the late innings ... On the year, Cousino leads UK in nearly every category, including average (.365), runs (35), hits (50), doubles (13) and steals (seven), adding one triple, five homers and 27 RBI ... The 2011 Baseball America first-team high school All-America selection has reached base safely in 31 of his 32 career games and is currently riding a five-game hitting streak, reaching base safely in nine straight.
Softball: Griffin Joiner
Freshman Griffin Joiner led the Wildcat attack at the plate in a crucial series victory over South Carolina. Joiner led the team with a .444 average on the week, score three times, walked four times, drove in three runs and doubled twice while stealing her second base of the season. Joiner's three-RBI day against the Gamecocks in the series-tying win marks a new career-high as well as the three walks she drew in the game. Joiner's development at the plate has been a key for the Blue and White as she was one of just two players to tally a hit against No. 12 Louisville in a midweek contest. Behind the plate as UK's catcher she caught two of the three base stealers in their attempts against the Gamecocks, adding to her repertoire.
Baseball: Luke Maile
Junior Luke Maile continued to pace the NCAA's leading offense during a four-game week, leading Kentucky its fourth consecutive series win to open conference play, with a series victory over No. 10 Ole Miss ... Maile collected a staggering 20 total bases in four games, launching three homers and three doubles with six RBI, batting .471 (8-for-17) ... The catcher extended his seven-game hitting streak during the week, starting with a two-homer game in UK's midweek win over Dayton, including a double and four RBI ... In the series-opener vs. Ole Miss, Maile collected a pair of run-sparking doubles in a 3-2 win, scoring both runs, including the go-ahead tally in the late innings ... In the series clincher, Maile put UK on the board with a solo homer to even the game, going 2-for-4 with two runs ... In the second game vs. Ole Miss, Maile collected a single ... On the year, Maile has hit .341 (42-for-123) with nine doubles, nine homers and 26 RBI, stealing seven bases.
Baseball: Alex Phillips
Senior left-handed reliever Alex Phillips was a workhorse for the UK bullpen during a four-game week, pitching on Friday and Sunday to win and save UK's two series-clinching victories over No. 10 Ole Miss ... In the series opener, Phillips came on in relief of starter Taylor Rogers, tossing 3.1 shutout innings, striking out three to pick up the win ... On Sunday, with UK facing its third consecutive rubber match, Phillips worked three innings just two days after his first three-inning workload, allowing one run to pick up the save ... Phillips has been a major force for a stout UK bullpen on the year, appearing in 14 games with a 5-0 record and a 2.01 ERA, totaling two saves in 31.1 innings.
Men's tennis: Eric Quigley
Quigley was the star of the weekend for Kentucky, winning both of his singles matches to increase his impressive record to 10-0 against SEC foes. The native of Pewee Valley, Ky., defeated two highly ranked foes during the week, including No. 15 Artem Ilyushin and No. 19 Nik Scholtz. Quigley's win over Scholtz was the match clincher in its win over Ole Miss.
Baseball - Kentucky completed its first series win over Ole Miss since the 2008 season, as the Wildcats won the set over a blistering-hot Ole Miss club that entered the weekend fresh off a series win over consensus No. 1 Florida. UK posted a 3-2 win in the opener, suffered a 9-3 loss in the second game, before riding a strong pitching effort from Corey Littrell to a series-clinching win on Sunday, 8-3. - UK has opened up the 2012 season with a 30-3 mark, the best start to a season in school history, leading the NCAA in wins and pacing the conference atop the standings for the second consecutive week. - UK's 9-3 start to conference play is also a program best, with UK running up a school-record 21-game home winning streak earlier in the year and a program-best 22 game winning streak to open the season, the second-longest streak in the storied history of the SEC. UK now owns a 7-2 record against teams ranked in the top 25, with UK also boasting a 9-1 record in one-run games in 2012.
Men's tennis - Behind a dominating performance in singles action that included a come-from-behind effort from senior No. 7 Eric Quigley for the decisive fourth point of the match, UK clinched a share of the SEC regular-season title with a 5-2 win over No. 14 Ole Miss on Sunday. UK began the weekend with a 6-1 win over No. 10 Mississippi State. This is the first SEC title since UK won the overall SEC Championship in 1992. - Quigley was the star of the weekend for Kentucky, winning both of his singles matches to increase his impressive record to 10-0 against SEC foes. The native of Pewee Valley, Ky., defeated two highly ranked foes during the week, including No. 15 Artem Ilyushin and No. 19 Nik Scholtz. Quigley's win over Scholtz was the match clincher vs. Ole Miss. - The two wins over the weekend takes Kentucky's record against top 25 teams this season to 9-3, while UK has earned 29 wins over top-25 teams since the start of the 2009 season. UK also continued to perform well at home, boosting its home record to 58-10 since the start of the 2009 season.
Gymnastics - UK concluded the season with a fifth-place showing at the NCAA Champaign Regional behind a team score of 194.750. - The Wildcats saved the best performance of the night for last, scoring a team score of 48.95 on uneven bars. Junior Caitlyn Ciokajlo led the way for Kentucky with a career-high tying 9.875, which ranked her fifth overall at the meet. - UK seniors Storey Morris and Whitney Rose ended their collegiate careers with strong showings at the event. Morris posted a team-best 9.825 on balance beam and a 9.8 on both vault and bars, while Rose tied a season best score on bars with a 9.775. Softball - The Kentucky softball team earned a crucial series victory over South Carolina this weekend at home to improve to 5-7 in Southeastern Conference action and remain in the hunt for a spot in the SEC Tournament. - Kentucky was led by the hot-hitting of senior Brittany Cervantes and freshman Griffin Joiner. Cervantes batted .400 for the week, including .500 against the Gamecocks. Cervantes hit homers in all three games against South Carolina, while scoring five times and driving in four runs. Joiner led the offensive unit with a .444 average for the week. She notched a pair of doubles and three runs driven in to help the Wildcat cause. - Senior Rachel Riley also boasted the Wildcat attack with a .400 average and a pair of homers. She was vital in her pitching performance as well. Riley tossed her first shutout of the season in the series-tying victory. She went the distance and struck out five in the win. Senior Chanda Bell earned the other victory in the circle for UK while striking out 10 in a complete-game series-clincher on Sunday. Women's tennis - Women's tennis grabbed its first SEC victory of the season over Mississippi State, posting a final result of 5-1. - In singles play, Jessica Stiles defeated 113th-ranked Alexandra Perper at the No. 1 singles slot, 6-7 (3), 6-1, 1-0 (10). Khristina Blajkevitch also found herself in a tight match as she defeated Olesya Tsigvintseva 2-6, 6-2, 1-0 (8). Caitlin McGraw and Stephanie Fox also grabbed singles victories for the Cats. - UK next faced No. 16 Ole Miss and fell 7-0. Freshman Edmee Morin-Kougoucheff put up a valiant effort in singles play, falling just short of Erin Stephens at the No. 3 singles slot, 6-7, 4-6.
Men's golf - Men's golf finished 13th at the Gary Koch Invitational, its final tournament of the regular season. - Junior Joseph Barr led Kentucky with a final score of 8-over-par, tying for 38th. - It was the second time this season Barr had the best or tied for the best tournament finish on the team.
Women's golf - The University of Kentucky women's golf team finished 13th at the 2012 Bryan National Collegiate. - Junior Heather Lott finished the weekend in a tie for 35th at 11-over-par 227. - Junior Betsie Johnson led Kentucky with eight birdies on the weekend.
Track and field - Competing at the Florida Relays, junior Shiara Robinson recorded the seventh-best time in the 400m hurdles in UK history with a 1:00.85. - Sophomore Julie Nunn ran the 10th fastest 400m dash in program history, clocking a 55.71. - Freshman Keilah Tyson continued her impressive rookie campaign, missing out on her UK freshman record in the 100m by just 0.01 seconds. - Junior Luis Orta finished fifth in the 5,000m with a time of 14:09.47, while sophomore Allison Peare finished fifth in the 800m. Upcoming schedule
Tuesday, April 10 Baseball hosts Louisville - 6:30 p.m.