By Ryan Suckow
Feb. 23, 2013 -
GAINESVILLE, Fla. - The Kentucky gymnastics team produced its best performance of the season in the final Southeastern Conference regular season meet on Friday in the Steven C. O’Connell Center. Kentucky finished with a total score of 196.075 against the top-ranked Florida Gators.
Though the Wildcats dropped the meet 196.975-196.075, UK’s score was good for the sixth best in program history in front of an energetic crowd of 4,321. The Wildcats used season-high event scores on vault and beam to reach 196 for the first time this season.
The performance was especially impressive given the Wildcats were facing the nation’s top-ranked team in a hostile environment.
“We’re happy to score 196-plus for the first time this season,” head coach Tim Garrison said. “Now we need to build on the momentum created tonight as we move out of the SEC competition. With a Sunday meet this next week, we can get in a solid week of training on necessary improvements.”
Audrey Harrison also notched her sixth all-around title of the season and fourth in a row, scoring a 39.225, but there were plenty of other quality performances that contributed to Friday’s season-high outcome.
Starting out on uneven bars for the first time since traveling to Alabama on Jan. 25, Garrison opted to start with Sara Shipley. The sophomore made her return to the leadoff spot for the first time since that very meet, and the Florida native did not disappoint as she started off the evening with a 9.75 to get the meet under way.
Alexis Gross would cap off bars with a team-high 9.85 to give UK a 48.95 for the event.
UK then rotated to vault, an event that Garrison had stressed the importance of to his team all week long. Though the Wildcats did not stick any of their dismounts, the extra practice and added emphasis certainly paid off.
Shipley, having not competed once this season on the vault, was moved into the leadoff spot on Friday. She rewarded her coach and team with a career-high tying performance of a 9.8 to set the tone once again.
Kenzie Hedges tied her career high with a 9.85, while Holly Cunningham posted a team-high score with a career high 9.875. After Shelby Hilton closed the event with a 9.775, UK had produced its season-high total on vault with a 49.05.
As the halfway point came and went, UK moved over to floor exercise with the Cats appearing to be on pace for a season-high performance.
UK got off to a slow start on floor, but the duo of Shannon Mitchell and Harrison rounded out the event with 9.85s consecutively to pull themselves back to within striking distance of their first 196-plus team score of the season, producing a floor score of 48.925. Mitchell’s 9.85 tied her season and career-high output.
Heading to the final event with a three-event total of 146.925, UK would need at least a beam score of 49.075 to achieve a 196 even. Kentucky’s season high on beam going into Florida was 49.0, and they were coming off a rough performance the previous meet.
Kentucky made one lineup change on beam, replacing last week’s anchor Shipley with Cunningham. The lineup tweak was a gamble, but it paid off immensely.
In much need of a bounce-back performance in the event, the beam competitors responded with their best performance of the season while the pressure was on.
In one of the most clutch performances of year, Kentucky pulled off four scores of 9.825 or better including three consecutive 9.85s on the last three routines of beam. Not only did the Cats reach their mark of 49.075, they exceeded it finishing with a season-high 49.15. That mark was good for the fourth-highest beam score in program history.
“It was a confidence-building rotation for our beam team to finish the meet tonight with a season-high score,” Garrison said.
The beam performance propelled UK to their first score of at least 196 since March 11, 2012 at home against Ball State and George Washington when UK posted a 196.025.
Kentucky finishes the SEC slate 3-3-1 in conference meets, setting a program record with three SEC victories on the season.
The Wildcats will head to Muncie, Ind., next Sunday, March 3 to take on Ball State at 1 p.m.
1) UF 196.975
2) UK 196.075
UK: VAULT: 49.050, BARS: 48.950, BEAM: 49.150, FLOOR: 48.925
VAULT: Sara Shipley
9.800, Jill Chappel
9.750, Audrey Harrison
9.750, Kenzie Hedges
9.850, Holly Cunningham
9.875, Shelby Hilton
BARS: Sara Shipley 9.750, Amy Roemmele 9.125, Shelby Hilton 9.800, Kayla Hartley 9.775, Audrey Harrison 9.775, Alexis Gross 9.850
BEAM: Kayla Sienkowski 9.775, Shannon Mitchell 9.825, Marissa Beucler 9.225, Audrey Harrison 9.850, Alexis Gross 9.850, Holly Cunningham 9.850
FLOOR: Tiara Phipps 9.775, Alexis Gross 9.600, Kenzie Hedges 9.750, Shannon Mitchell 9.850, Audrey Harrison 9.850, Kayla Hartley 9.700