Kentucky Gymnastics Season Outlook
Nov. 3, 2009
LEXINGTON, Ky. - Head coach Mo Mitchell feels a new team mantra will give the University of Kentucky gymnastics team an extra edge this year.
"It's business," Mitchell said. "When we go on the road; it's business. When we are at home; it's business. They aren't vacation trips; they're business trips. We're taking our office on the road and we have a job to do. It starts from the top, it starts from me. I'm all about business too. The coaches and the athletes all have to be on the same page. I think we have a good group of athletes willing to do that."
Mitchell begins his seventh year at UK after helping the Wildcats add 22 team and individual records into the Kentucky record books last season. He also guided a solid vault team to a year-long top-15 status. Mitchell even developed freshman Whitney Rose into the Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year.
"We may have made a few mistakes last season, but this year our whole attitude is changing," Mitchell said. "We're going to get ready earlier. When the season starts we don't want to be focused on staying on the equipment. When the season starts we want to focus on doing our skills at perfection, not just doing them. We're going to come out with a killer attitude this year; we want to have a killer instinct."
Two pre-season exhibition meets are scheduled for the Blue and White this season, one intra-squad meet on November 14 at 2 p.m. and an exhibition inter-squad meet against Ball State on December 5 in Muncie, Ind. Complete preparation is the key for UK this season.
A squad of 14 will be leading the Kentucky into the program's 29th season. At the end of the year waits what will be the team's 21st post-season appearance since 1982. And this year the meet is in Kentucky's own Memorial Coliseum hosted by the Wildcats themselves.
"I think it is a brilliant opportunity for us," Mitchell said. "We can't ask for a better situation. It's at our home, on our equipment, we have our fans here and we need to get it done."
But before UK can look to the regional meet, they must take on the ever challenging SEC schedule as well as a difficult non-conference slate. Six home and five away meets headline the 2010 year. Kentucky faces the top gymnastics programs in the nation every season, so they are no strangers to the type of game the six other conference schools can bring.
The LSU Tigers will be meeting Kentucky at the Lady Luck Invitational in Las Vegas, Nev., for the Cats' first conference meet of 2010. Arizona State will also be competing in Sin City with the Tigers and Wildcats. Other league meets include Florida, Auburn and Alabama in the Bluegrass while UK is set to hit the road to meet Arkansas and the reigning NCAA Champion, Georgia. Texas Woman's, Kent State, Illinois State, George Washington and Oregon State finish out the schedule. Whether or not home court makes a difference, Mitchell believes in one bottom line:
"If you hit your hand stands, stick your landings and make your routines, giving the judges nothing to take off, then they don't take anything off."
There are three new additions to the team, current Level 10 National Beam champion Caitlyn Ciokajlo, Rachel Sarnovsky and Caitlin Satkowiak. The trio of Wildcat rookies will be added to an already solid roster. However Kentucky will be looking for athletes to step up and fill the voids left by Heather Hite, Natalie Rubinstein and Bridget Carreiro who graduated in May. Not only is competition amongst teams rigorous, but competition to be in the starting six for Kentucky is also just as challenging. In order to prepare the team, Coach Mitchell has demanded dedication and hard work from the get-go.
"They've worked hard this summer," Mitchell said. "Coach Chuck [Dickerson] has been here with them all summer working hard and we've put some ground rules down. We have some conditioning and running tests we have been doing so that we are in the best shape we can be in when we start the season. Is it going to be tougher? Yeah it is, but we're in the SEC, five of the top six teams came from the SEC last year and if we're going to be a part of that this year we need to train that way."
The Wildcats were a top-15 vault squad in 2009 and return all of the starters but are also jam packed with depth on this event. There are several members of the team who can put up big numbers on the vault outside of the starting six. Last season Kentucky broke its vault Regional Qualifying Score and looks to improve its mark once again.
Senior Emily Green led the Cats last season and will be returning after having a record season on vault, averaging a 9.850 with a career-high 9.950. She also ranked as high as No. 20 in the country. SEC Freshman of the Year Rose and junior Jasmine Minion are also back in the line-up, each averaging above a 9.800 on the event last year.
Consistency on vault was an element UK perfected last season under the direction of Coach Dickerson. Dickerson brings more than 25 years of coaching expertise to the event. His emphasis on training and conditioning will help maintain the success UK as seen on the event.
Outside of last year's vault line-up is senior Emilie Rymer who is a strong candidate to start on vault after being sidelined by an early season ankle injury last year.
The Wildcats take a hit in their uneven bars line-up with the loss of Rubinstein who ranked top-20 on the event and averaged a 9.800 on bars. Although Coach Mitchell feels that newcomer Ciokajlo can fill the void:
"I'm really excited about Caitlyn because not only is she a really good beam worker, she's a great all-arounder. Her floor scores are great, her bars are incredible and she'll definitely be that kid in that spot to take over for Natalie on the bar routine. A lot of very unique stuff in her bar routine and just a great kid to work with."
Bars specialist Jamie Reimann will be returning for her senior year. Reimann stepped into the line-up last season and didn't disappoint, earning a career-best 9.850 at a meet in her home state of Iowa. Junior Colleen Williams will also be returning to the line-up after competing bars the second half of the season. Sophomore Storey Morris, now with a year under her belt, is a solid contender on the event.
A beam coaching change brings former UK gymnast Heather Hite back onto the gymnastics scene. After leading the squad 13 times on the beam last season and acquiring 16 career balance beam titles, Hite looks to help the team from a coaching position now.
The Cats also lost Carreiro who was a solid beam worker as well. Stepping up to the plate from last season's line-up will be Green, Rymer, Minion and Rose, all gymnasts who will be able to post solid scores. First-year competitor Ciokajlo is another possible element to add to the equation after having great success on the beam in Level 10 competition.
"Some of the changes we're making now, as well as coaching changes, are going to bring a breath of fresh air and it's going to help us on this event," Mitchell said. "We've had athletes this summer who were better this summer than they were during the season staying on the equipment and sticking their routines. I'm really looking forward to the improvements we're going to have over there."
Always an explosive event for the Blue and White, the Cats should continue their dominance on the floor exercise. Despite a big hole left by the loss of Hite, Kentucky still has many standouts eagerly waiting to fill the position.
Junior Minion earned two floor titles last season and led the team three times on the event. Rymer will be back in full health this season and looks to make up for lost time while fellow senior Green will also return to the lineup. Green impressed nailing a 9.825 or betting in five of the last seven meets.
Senior Hillary Ferguson and Rose were UK's two primary all-around performers last season. Junior Andrea Mitchell also competed on four events at the start of the season before suffering a back injury.
Rose and Mitchell will be back in the lineup and compete for the all-around spots. Ferguson, entering her last year as a Wildcat, underwent surgery during the summer on some nagging injuries. Despite not being able to kick off the season on all four events, the Kentucky native looks forward to making big contributions on the mat later in the year. Ferguson finished 2009 with high scores of 9.825 or better on all four events, her strongest being vault with a 9.875 and floor with a 9.900.
"Overall I think we're going to have a strong team," Mitchell said. "What are going to be the strengths of our team are our attitudes and our work ethic and how we approach the season which is totally different than last year."