Something old, some things new
Nothing borrowed, all Big Blue
Must be Excite Night for the University of Kentucky gymnastics team.
Excite Night — the ol' faithful way UK opens home seasons — has a new name: Excite Night at the Kentucky Classic.
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Saturday's pre-meet show in Memorial Coliseum is scheduled at 5:30 p.m., with competition at about 6 p.m.
UK, No. 23 in the GymInfo pre-season coaches poll, will play host to Bowling Green, No. 4 Oklahoma and Wisconsin-Oshkosh.
The list of new includes Coach Tim Garrison, seven freshmen and a transfer.
Nothing borrowed, either, as the Wildcats will be sporting new leotards and sweats.
Garrison, 41, was hired in April after serving as an assistant since 2006 at Nebraska. He took over from interim coaches Chuck Dickerson and Heather Hite.
Dickerson remains on staff as an assistant, joined by former Kansas club coach Mary McDaniel.
Garrison competed in bars, floor and vault for one season before Cal State Fullerton dropped the men's program. He completed his time at Fullerton as an assistant with the women's team.
He went on to coach club teams in Huntington Beach and Temecula, Calif., and also coached club while with Nebraska.
Over five seasons with the Cornhuskers, Garrison was responsible for producing 10 All-Americans. Nebraska made it to three NCAA nationals and two NCAA Super Six appearances.
He says he learned from all his coaching associates, including a master whom he worked under at Karolyi's Gymnastics in Houston.
"A lot of motivation probably comes from Bela Karolyi, just from watching him and how he coaches," Garrison said. "I think a lot of coaching is not only what you say, it's what you don't say. It's when you say it. It's how you say it. There's so much involved in it."
Garrison says his points of emphasis with the Wildcats include strength and conditioning, nutrition and, of course, classwork.
With only two seniors and two juniors, UK has only 10 of 24 routines back from last season. Of those 10, most are performing different skills and different combinations.
Everything is geared to what Garrison calls "a clear direction." The direction is toward achievement and excellence, in and out of the gym, he said.
"I want them to be different when they leave our program. ... I don't want to hold their hands through their gymnastics career and through their collegiate career," he said. "I want to help them become complete people. That's what I want. I want them to leave here and be independent."
Senior co-captains Storey Morris and Whitney Rose lead the team into the opener.
"They have a tremendous presence in the gym," Garrison said. "And not just vocally, but they're working their tails off. That right there tells me a lot. They're not ready for this to be over just yet. They want to continue to get better throughout the year."
Morris will lead off on vault and Rose will start off on bars.
As a team, though, UK's strongest event might be beam — their downfall more than once last year.
McDaniel, with more than 20 years of experience coaching at the club level, is Garrison's beam Yoda. Her approach, though, carries throughout the rotation.
"What we're trying to do in every event is for them to understand what they're feeling, what they're doing, how they react to it," Garrison said. "Because they're up there all by themselves. It's a team sport, scored as a team sport. We go one at a time.
"So that one person needs to understand what they're doing, how they're going to do it, how they're going to react to it when it's not so great but still be successful; turn what could ordinarily be a major mistake into a minor mistake. That will save us valuable tenths."
With seven freshmen and six sophomores, Garrison anticipates UK will improve throughout the season.
What he'll be looking for Saturday is execution and a scrappy attitude.
"It's an exciting time for the team," he said. "They seem up. They seem ready to go."