Gymnastics Earns 24th Bid to NCAA Regionals
March 26, 2012
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- After tying the best finish in school history at the Southeastern Conference Championships last weekend, the 24th-ranked University of Kentucky gymnastics team has earned a bid into the NCAA Regional Championship in Champaign, Ill., on Saturday, April 7 at 5 p.m. ET. The regional is being hosted by the University of Illinois and will be held at Assembly Hall.
“We are very excited to be heading to the NCAA Regional in Champaign,” UK head coach Tim Garrison said. “We have made two trips to Illinois already this season, so this will be a very familiar trip and a comfortable setting for our athletes, which is important this time of year. Hopefully, we will be able to use all of those factors to our advantage.”
Kentucky (11-10) earned the qualifying spot behind a Regional Qualifying Score of 195.49, which is the second-highest RQS in school history. The high mark ranks UK 24th in the nation in the latest GymInfo team standings, which were released Monday morning. UK ranks in the top 25 on two events, sitting 20th in the nation on balance beam and 24th in the nation on vault. The Wildcats are also 26th on uneven bars and tied for 32nd on floor exercise.
UK is one of 36 teams from around the country to earn a regional invitation. Champaign, Ill., is one of six national sites to play host to a regional this season, joining Fayetteville, Ark., Auburn, Ala., Raleigh, N.C., Salt Lake City, Utah and Seattle, Wash. The top two performing teams from each regional advance to the NCAA Championship finals April 20-22 in Duluth, Ga. Top all-around competitions and individual specialists advance as well.
Joining 24th-ranked Kentucky in the Champaign Regional is No. 2 Oklahoma, No. 11 Stanford, No. 14 Denver, No. 22 Illinois and Illinois-Chicago. The Wildcats faced three of the five teams already this season, including a win over Illinois in Champaign. UK also posted a road win at Illinois-Chicago, while it fell in the opening meet of the season to Oklahoma at Memorial Coliseum.
“There are a lot of great teams in this regional,” Garrison said. “Oklahoma is a national power every year and Stanford, Denver, Illinois and UIC have all had great seasons. Right now, we need to keep our focus centered in practice and work on continuing to build our confidence over the next few weeks.”
This marks the eighth consecutive year and the 24th time in school history that UK has advanced to the NCAA Regional competition. Last year, Kentucky finished fifth in the NCAA Tuscaloosa Regional behind the highest team score at a NCAA Regional in school history with a 195.175. UK’s best finish at a regional was third at the 1990 Gainesville Regional and at the 1996 Tuscaloosa Regional. The Wildcats have finished as high as fourth at a regional three times, including 2001, 2005 and 2006.
Kentucky is having a strong first season under Garrison, who became the first head coach in school history to led UK to a 196 team score in year one of a tenure. Garrison and Co. have had a lot of success recently, posting three consecutive team scores of 195.875 or higher to end the regular season. That stretch was the best in school history and included Kentucky’s season-high 196.025, which marked only the 10th score of 196 or higher in program history.
UK is coming off a fifth-place finish at the SEC Championships in Duluth, Ga., on Saturday, which tied the best showing in school history. UK posted a team score of 194.350 at the event, while the Wildcats were impressive on vault and balance beam. UK earned a team score of 49.0 on vault behind a career-high tying 9.85 from sophomore Holly Cunningham. The high mark for Cunningham tied the highest vault score of the season for Kentucky. The Wildcats also performed well on balance beam with a team score of 48.725. Freshman Shannon Mitchell, sophomore Audrey Harrison and senior Storey Morris all scored 9.775s on beam to lead UK.
Tickets to the event can be purchased through the Illinois Athletic Ticket Office by calling 1-866-ILLINI-1. All tickets for the NCAA Regional are general admission.
For more information on the Kentucky gymnastics team, follow “UKGymnastics” on Twitter and Facebook, or visit UKathletics.com.