Excite Night: Kentucky gymnastics tops visiting Arkansas

mmaloney@herald-leader.comJanuary 18, 2013 

Friday's final score reflected what Coach Tim Garrison called a lateral step.

Yet, No. 14 Kentucky's 195.500-193.075 gymnastics win over No. 9 Arkansas also was a giant leap forward.

"Any time you get a win in the SEC, we're happy with that," Garrison said. " ... Looking at our own performance and just taking Arkansas completely out of the picture, we could have done a lot of things better. And that's what we'll need to do.

"As we go through the season, we're going to need to handle the pressure of being home or being away. And I don't think we did that as well as we could have tonight. I think we will. Now we've got three competitions under our belt and we're moving in the right direction."

Coming off its first SEC dual road win (at Auburn) since 1999, Kentucky now has what is believed to be its first back-to-back SEC dual victories. Friday marked UK's first win over a top 10 team since at least 2006.

"So exciting," all-around champion Audrey Harrison said. "And the crowd was so big, it made it even better."

A throng of 5,613 nearly filled Memorial Coliseum for the Excite Night home opener as UK improved to 4-1 overall, 2-0 in the SEC. The Cats scored 195.525 at Auburn.

UK won each rotation against Arkansas (0-2, 0-2).

Harrison provided the top moment with a 9.90 victory on the uneven bars.

The highlight "because we struggled a little on vault. We had a mistake over here on bars before her routine, and she came up last and just absolutely nailed her routine," Garrison said. "So that for me was a big-time highlight."

For Harrison, too.

"I was most happy with bars, because I kind of struggled last meet. And I had a rough warmup, too," said the junior from Knoxville. "Then when I hit my routine, it was just that much more exciting."

As she progressed through the event, Harrison had to maintain her poise.

"When I'm going through my routine, I talk myself through it," she said. "So I'm getting excited as I'm doing it."

Her all-around score of 39.275 improved on her 39.125 at Auburn, which was tied for No. 23 in the nation.

Harrison also won the floor exercise (9.850) and was solid in vault (9.750) and beam (9.775).

Holly Cunningham tied with Arkansas' Heather Edwards for vault honors (9.825), while UK's Shannon Mitchell and Marissa Beucler shared first place on beam with the Razorbacks' Sydnie Dillard (9.825).

The Wildcats came through on beam with no major snafus.

"Obviously, any time you can go hit beam, that's a good thing," Garrison said. "And you can go and finish off on floor and really play to the fans, those are all great things."

Mitchell, a sophomore from Bethesda, Md., also was runner-up to Harrison on floor with a 9.825.

"I was very happy with the turnout of beam and floor," Mitchell said. "Beam has been my favorite event forever, so I really like it. And I like the feeling when I get on it, so it's great."

The Cats will go for three SEC duals in a row next week at Alabama, then return to the Coliseum for a Feb. 1 meet against LSU.

Garrison would like to see many of the faces that were on hand Friday.

"It's the biggest crowd I've seen since I've been here, and I'm extremely happy to see it," he said, "and I hope they all come back."

Kentucky 195.500, Arkansas 193.075

Vault — (tie) Holly Cunningham (UK) and Heather Elswick (Ark.) 9.825; Kenzie Hedges (UK) 9.80.

Bars — Audrey Harrison (UK) 9.90; (tie) Kayla Hartley (UK) and Shelby Salmon (Ark.) 9.825.

Beam — (tie) Shannon Mitchell (UK), Marissa Beucler (UK) and Sydnie Dillard (Ark.) 9.825.

Floor — Audrey Harrison (UK) 9.850; Shannon Mitchell (UK) 9.825; Sydnie Dillard (Ark.) 9.775.

All-around — Audrey Harrison (UK) 39.275; Amy Borselino (Ark.) 38.725; Kelci Lewis (Ark.) 37.325.

Mark Maloney: (859) 231-3229 Twitter: @MarkMaloneyHL Blog: markmaloney.bloginky.com

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