Gymnastics: Cats ride resilient performance to season-opening win in Excite Night

mmaloney@herald-leader.comJanuary 10, 2014 

Kentucky didn't open the gymnastics season with a flawless routine Friday.

But the 21st-ranked Wildcats did enough things right to win their annual Excite Night at The Kentucky Classic before a Memorial Coliseum crowd of 5,839.

UK totaled 195.00 points. No. 15 Penn State totaled 193.975, followed by West Virginia with 193.700, then Ball State with 190.875.

"The meet tonight is exactly what we hoped to see," said Tim Garrison, who is in his third season as UK's coach. "What we wanted to see was fight and grit. ... If they struggled, to not let it affect them. And that's exactly what we saw tonight. We saw it in every event."

Starting with the first rotation.

"We started out great in vault," Garrison said. "We had two back-to-back that didn't so well. They very easily could have put their hands down and given up on it. They didn't, they took a step forward, pulled their chest up and performed well for the rest of the event."

Holly Cunningham, last to go in the vault, scored 9.80 to place second overall.

"This was a really good start for us," said Cunningham, a senior from Colorado Springs. "Obviously it wasn't our best, but it's good to come out here and be confident, and see that we can come out with a win even though it's not our best night."

The near-capacity crowd appreciated every moment.

"It was electric," Garrison said. "It was a fun night. When one of our athletes would hit a landing, the whole place would just go crazy."

Audrey Harrison led UK, taking all-around honors with a score of 39.075. The senior from Knoxville won on beam (9.85, tying her career best) and tied with teammate Kayla Hartley and two others for first on floor (9.825). Harrison also scored 9.70 on vault and 9.75 on bars.

"I felt good," Harrison said. "I was a little disappointed in bars because I'd been training so well, and then I didn't do as good as I'd been practicing. But I still finished strong. And I was happy with beam and floor especially.

"I was nervous for beam, coming off bars where I didn't do my best. Then, hitting that was just really exciting, and that kind of pushed me on the floor to take that energy there."

UK, with its highest pre-season ranking ever, was paced on bars by Amy Roemmele, who scored a career-best 9.825 to place third.

"Tim was telling us at the end and all throughout that he liked the fight," Harrison said. "Because we didn't give way. Someone could have fallen, but they didn't and they saved it. We saw that on each event, when people were trying just not to give away anything to get the highest score possible."

West Virginia had first-place finishes by Jaida Lawrence in vault (9.85) and Alexa Goldberg on bars (9.925).

Penn State's Sidney Sanabria-Robles and Randi Lau shared floor honors with Harrison and Hartley.

Harrison personified the fight and grit that Garrison saw in the team.

"Her vault wasn't her best vault ... Her bar routine was a little bit off," Garrison said, "but she fought her way through it. If you didn't know what you were looking for, you probably wouldn't even notice the mistake that she made.

"Beam was beautiful and floor, she finished out great. So she struggled on her first two events and then came back really strong on the third and fourth events and won the all-around. That is basically just a snapshot of what I want to see from this team."

UK goes on the road for the next three weeks, returning to the Coliseum on Feb. 7 to face Florida.

Kentucky 195.00, Penn State 193.975, West Virginia 193.700, Ball State 190.875

Vault—UK 48.6; PSU 48.475; WVU 48.475; BSU 48.075. Jaida Lawrence (WVU) 9.85; Holly Cunningham (UK) 9.8; Kenzie Hedges (UK) 9.775.

Beam—UK 48.675; PSU 47.825; WVU 48.350; BSU 46.400. Audrey Harrison (UK) 9.85; (tie) Shannon Mitchell (UK) and Shelby Hilton (UK) 9.75.

Bars—UK 48.775; PSU 48.750; WVU 48.950; BSU 48.125. Alexa Goldberg (WVU) 9.925; Hope Sloanhoffer (WVU) 9.85; Amy Roemmele (UK) 9.825.

Floor—UK 48.950; PSU 48.925; WVU 47.925; BSU 48.275. (tie) Audrey Harrison (UK), Kayla Hartley (UK), Sidney Sanabria-Robles (PSU) and Randi Lau (PSU) 9.825.

All-around—Audrey Harrison (UK) 39.075; (tie) Kassidy Stauder (PSU) and Krystal Welsh (PSU) 38.925.

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

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