Freshmen Dukes and Hyland Excited for What is to Come

To earn all-conference honors in any sport is tough. To do it as a freshman is even tougher.

But to earn an all-conference nod as a freshman in undeniably the most difficult conference for your sport across the country? That’s down right impressive.

Kentucky has a pair of newcomers who achieved this feat just over a week ago in North Little Rock, Arkansas, as rookies Sidney Dukes and Alex Hyland each posted a 9.9 on balance beam to earn spots on both the All-Southeastern Conference and Southeastern Conference All-Freshman teams. The duo became the second and third UK gymnasts ever to earn both distinctions in the same year, joining current sophomore Sydney Waltz. 

“SEC’s was such a cool experience,” Hyland remarked. “It’s different because it’s a packed house with so many people in the crowd. You feel so important. Growing up this was my dream, and SEC’s were a realization that it is coming true.”

“The SEC meet was such an incredible experience – the team was really excited and I think as a group we were really determined to do our best that day,” Dukes added. 

Both Dukes and Hyland faced additional pressure leading up to the pair of 9.9 results on the beam. Senior Amy Roemmele fell in the second spot, with the pressure mounting on Dukes and Hyland to perform. 

Even with the weight of the meet riding on their shoulders, both stayed cool and collected, guiding UK to its best score at the SEC Championship all-time and its fourth straight score of 196.25 or above. 

“At the end of the day, it’s my routine and I can only control what I do,” Dukes commented. “I mostly relied on previous workouts. The week before I had been solid and repeatedly hit, so I relied on that and did what I usually do.”

“I think it’s nothing we haven’t done before earlier in the season,” Hyland said on the performance. “We’ve had falls before in previous meets, so it didn’t really shake us. Personally, I do what I do – I try do everything I can so that a fall before me doesn’t affect what I do or how I perform. For me a beam routine is a beam routine – I just want to do the best for our team because the team needed us to step up.
“For a second it usually hits me, but then I turn around and remind myself ‘we do so many reps and so many numbers, we can do this in our sleep at this point.’ It’s all mental, so I try and just shut my brain down and let my body take over.” 

With the NCAA Regional meet on Saturday, the Wildcats have a chance to make history once again. Following a program best regional qualifying score (196.205), Kentucky will make a program record 12th consecutive regional appearance and attempt to qualify for the NCAA championship for the first time in program history. The Cats will be forced to face steep competition in top-seeded host Alabama, top-20 opponents Cal and Boise State, along with regional foes West Virginia and Bowling Green.

Even with the difficult field looming, the freshmen duo are confident this UK team could leave its mark on the history books. 

“I think at this point we have high expectations, but we can’t think of this meet as being anything outside of a normal meet. I think that if we start thinking too much into it, Regionals will stress us out, and we’ll get out of our rhythm,” Hyland said. 

“The fact that the meet is at Alabama helps us. We’ve been there before and we know what to expect. If we continue to perform how we have lately and our work in the gym carries over, we’ll be golden.”

“My biggest goal for Regionals is to just have fun,” Dukes put simply. “It’s an exciting time in the postseason, we’ve put in the hours and the effort, and I think as a team if we go out there and enjoy the experience everything will fall into place.

The possibility is there for the Cats. While upstaging perennial powerhouse No. 4 Alabama for a spot looks to be a tough undertaking, Kentucky has fared well against Cal in the past, with UK topping the west coast squad in their last meeting in 2014. Kentucky defeated Boise State in the lone matchup between the two clubs in 2006, and took down West Virginia earlier this season in Morgantown. The Wildcats are also 6-0 against Bowling Green all-time.

Dukes put it simply when asked about a shot as nationals as a team.

“Going to nationals as a team would just be … awesome.”

Only time will tell how the Wildcats will fare at the NCAA regionals, but if the team can continue its trend of above-average performances, it seems the sky is the limit for Kentucky.