UK Upsets Auburn with Second-Highest Score in Team History
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LEXINGTON, Ky. - For the second time in the last three weeks, the No. 22 Kentucky gymnastics team upset a higher-ranked Southeastern Conference opponent, this time with the second-highest score in program history to defeat No. 9 Auburn, 196.575-196.325.
Kentucky's team score of 196.575, a season-high, is the second-highest score in program history and the best ever in Memorial Coliseum. It is the third time UK has scored 196.500 or higher, all occurring in the last three years under fourth-year head coach Tim Garrison.
The Wildcats (5-5, 3-4 SEC) upended the Tigers (5-4, 3-4 SEC) for the fifth time in the last four years. UK and Garrison improved to 5-0 in the regular season vs. AU, with each win coming in upset fashion.
"First of all, I'm so excited about the way our team performed tonight," Garrison said. "I thought we had a great start on vault, carried that over to bars, took it right into beam and then went into floor with a lot of momentum and carried through with that. It's just really exciting to put a complete meet together like that."
The Wildcats put together undoubtedly their most compete meet of the season from start to finish. UK recorded a 49.000 or higher on all four events for the first time since 2013. That started with a 49.125 on vault and continued with a 49.025 on uneven bars, both Kentucky's second-highest scores of the season on each event.
After two events, Kentucky trailed Auburn by 0.100 points, but while a 49.250 on balance beam didn't cut into AU's lead, it provided plenty of momentum. A season-high total on the event and the fifth-highest score in team history, UK earned its first event title of the night, thanks to senior Shannon Mitchell's career-high 9.925.
With the energy as high as it had been all season, the Wildcats went to floor needing to erase a deficit that had grown to 0.225 points after the Tigers' 49.375 on floor in the third rotation. That didn't bother UK though, as a season-high 49.175 on floor was enough to jump ahead of Auburn and secure the upset victory. Kentucky's comeback efforts were aided by AU counting a fall on beam and scoring a 48.700.
"Tonight, for the first time, we didn't give a lot away, so that's good," Garrison said. "The people that have been performing well performed great tonight. The people that we needed to step up and fill some voids that we had did that and did it in a great way. There's a lot positives to take from tonight in addition to the win, which is always a great thing."
Friday it was Mitchell who took it up an extra level on balance beam with a 9.925 for her fifth event title of the season third consecutive meet she has led the team on the event. Mitchell and junior Tiara Phipps led UK on vault, each with a 9.875. Phipps' score was a career high and Mitchell's a season-best while Phipps also scored a season-high 9.875 on floor for team-high honors. Freshman Cori Rechenmacher posted a team-best 9.825 on uneven bars.
The victory marked UK's first win over a top-10 team since the Wildcats beat No. 9 Arkansas in 2013.
The third win for the Wildcats in SEC competition in their last four league meets gives UK three conference victories for the second time in team history. Kentucky first posted three SEC wins in 2013, the first year the league expanded to eight teams.
It has been a steady climb up in team scores the past three weeks, as UK has improved its season-high score the last two meets.
"It's been three good scores, but it's also been different gymnasts stepping up each week," Garrison said. "I think the resiliency, I go back to that. Our team is just tough and they answer the bell every time. We ask more of them, they answer. And again we come back the next week and we ask more of different people and they answer. It's just a toughness within them that they've developed."
The mental toughness and resiliency has helped UK to a 195.625 Regional Qualifying Score, which will be the highest RQS in program history. Calculated by averaging a team's top six scores, with at least three of them from road meets, and removing the top score, Kentucky has broken the school RQS record in each of the past three seasons.
The Wildcats will have two more chances to improve their RQS this season, with the final opportunity at home coming next week on Senior Night. Kentucky hosts Pittsburgh and Ball State in Memorial Coliseum on March 13 at 7 p.m. ET before the SEC Championships on March 21 in Duluth, Ga.
A key component of UK's upset win was freshman Sydney Waltz, who became UK's first all-around competitor of the season. Waltz scored a 39.325 to finish second among all-arounders Friday, thanks to four scores of 9.800 or higher. She opened with a 9.850 on vault, followed by a 9.800 on bars and a 9.850 on beam. In her first career appearance on floor, Waltz posted a 9.825.
UK's season high beam score was aided by five scores of 9.825 or higher. Along with Mitchell's 9.925 and Waltz's 9.850, junior Marissa Beucler and freshmen Katie Carlisle and Cori Rechenmacher each totaled a 9.825. Beucler's was a career-high-tying and season best score.
Following Phipps' 9.875 on floor and Waltz's 9.825, Mitchell added a 9.825 of her own before sophomore Taylor Puryear tied her season high with a 9.850 and senior Kayla Hartley sealed UK's win with a 9.800.
Kentucky opened the meet on vault, which began with freshman Brittany Furuyama's 9.725. Hartley added a 9.800, and then it was Mitchell, Waltz and Phipps that ended the first routine with a bang, thanks to the 9.875, 9.850 and 9.875, respectively.
Along with Rechenmacher's 9.825 on uneven bars, UK eclipsed 49.000 on the event thanks to four scores of 9.800 from Beucler, Carlisle, Hartley and Waltz.
For complete news and updates on the Kentucky Gymnastics program, go to UKathletics.com. Breaking news, behind-the-scenes updates, photos and more can be found on Twitter at @UKGymnastics and Facebook at Facebook.com/UKGymnastics.