No. 23 Gymnastics Begins SEC Competition at No. 11 Arkansas

Jan. 11, 2012

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Looking to build off its strong second-placing showing last weekend in the 2012 season opener, the No. 23 University of Kentucky gymnastics team begins competition in the always tough Southeastern Conference when it travels to face No. 11 Arkansas in a dual meet on Friday at 8 p.m. ET at Barnhill Arena.

Kentucky (2-1) is coming off a score of 194.325 in its opening meet of the year, finishing second at the Excite Night at the Kentucky Classic event in front of 3,686 fans at Memorial Coliseum. No. 4 Oklahoma, who finished third at the NCAA Super Six team finals last season, finished first at the meet with a 195.875, while UK earned wins over Bowling Green State (188.925) and Wisconsin-Oshkosh (174.725).

“We were very pleased with the fan support for Excite Night at the Kentucky Classic,” UK head coach Tim Garrison said. “To have almost 3,700 fans in Memorial Coliseum made for an exciting evening for our season opener. Despite some mistakes, we felt the team performed well for the first meet. But we aren’t satisfied that our performance is the maximum that we are capable of and we’ve been training hard in the gym this week to improve. We have set our goals high, and will need to continue to improve to achieve them.”

UK was led at the meet by sophomore Audrey Harrison, who claimed the all-around title for the first time in her career. Harrison, a native of Knoxville, Tenn., paced the Wildcats on floor exercise with a team-high mark of 9.775, while she was solid in her first collegiate vault with a score of 9.8.

Senior Storey Morris also performed well for Kentucky, finishing with the third-highest score of the night on balance beam with a 9.75, while her 9.7 mark on uneven bars was tied for sixth on the event. Morris’ highest score at the season opener came on vault, an event she had only done collegiate once before. The senior started the Wildcats rotation on the event, sticking her landing and scoring a career-high 9.8.

Vault was the Wildcats best event during the meet with UK earning a team score of 49.025. Freshman Sara Shipley, who enrolled at UK in January, led Kentucky with a 9.85, while fellow freshman Kenzie Hedges finished second on the team with a 9.825. Harrison and Morris each chipped in with 9.8s, while sophomore Holly Cunningham completed the scoring with a 9.75 in her first collegiate vault.

In all, Kentucky had 18 of 24 routines performed by freshmen and sophomores in the lid lifter, while five Wildcats made their collegiate debuts in the meet in freshmen Alexis Gross, Shannon Mitchell, Hedges, and Shipley, and sophomore Kayla Hartley. Even with the youth, Kentucky scored the 14th highest team score in the nation during the opening weekend of the year.

UK is still ranked 23rd in the nation in the GymInfo Preseason Coaches’ Poll after no new rankings were released this week. The preseason ranking is tied for the second-highest preseason ranking in school history and the highest since Kentucky was ranked tied for 22nd in 2007.

“We are really looking forward to getting on the road to Arkansas this weekend,” Garrison said. “Our young group will gain valuable experience against another top-ranked opponent in a dual format, where the competitors perform one at a time. It will be a tough test and I am looking forward to seeing how they respond.”

Arkansas (4-0) is one of eight ranked teams the Wildcats will compete against this season. The Razorbacks had a record-setting beginning to the season, winning the Cancun Classic over No. 19 Arizona (195.15), No. 17 Auburn (194.775), No. 25 Iowa (193.875) and No. 12 LSU (192.50). UA scored a 196.45 in the opening met, which is the highest season-opening score in school history and was the second-best score in the nation over the opening weekend.

The Razorbacks were led in the meet by sophomore Katherine Grable, who won the all-around title with a mark of 39.275. Senior Jaime Pisani won the vault and floor titles with scores of 9.925 and 9.9, respectively, while fellow senior Mariah Howdeshell matched the second-best score in school history on bars with a 9.925.

Last year, Kentucky and Arkansas competed in Lexington at Memorial Coliseum, with the Razorbacks earning a victory 194.975 to 193.525. Kentucky and Arkansas have met annually since UA started its program in 2003.  

Live results from the meet will be available online at UKathletics.com. For more information on the Kentucky gymnastics team, follow “UKGymnastics” on Twitter and Facebook.