Music echoed through the gymnastics center in Nutter Field House on Tuesday as the Kentucky women’s gymnastics team put the finishing touches on their routines. Tuesday marked one of the team’s final practices before the Wildcats kick off their competitive season Friday hosting Ball State at Excite Night.
“We’ll learn a lot about ourselves,” head coach Tim Garrison said. “We’ll learn a lot about our younger athletes on the team, and be ready to move forward.”
For eight Wildcats, Friday night not only marks their first time representing the University of Kentucky competitively, but Excite Night serves as their collegiate gymnastics debut.
“The freshmen bring a lot of excitement, a lot of energy, and a lot of talent,” Garrison said. “It will be interesting to see how they perform. They have been competing in gymnastics for a long time, but they have never competed at a college meet before. I think Friday night holds a lot of excitement for them and our team as well.”
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Friday is the last Excite Night for four senior Wildcats.
“It flew by!” said senior Tiara Phipps. “This is my last year of gymnastics, and it is so awesome to get it started off right with Excite Night. A big crowd, high excitement, I can’t wait.”
Last season Kentucky finished eighth at the Southeastern Conference Championships and sixth in its NCAA regional. Cori Rechenmacher and Sydney Waltz became the first Wildcats in program history to be named to the All-SEC freshman team. While last year history was made and records were set, this year Garrison and his squad have their eyes set on qualifying for nationals.
“We want to have a strong finish this year,” Garrison said. “We need to make a strong stand in the postseason and really perform our best at that time of the year and hopefully make it to nationals.”
Kentucky’s 2016 schedule includes a visit by three-time defending NCAA champion Florida on March 4. The Wildcats visit 2015 NCAA Super Six teams Auburn (Jan. 15) and Alabama (Feb. 5).
The Wildcats’ journey to nationals begins in Memorial Coliseum at 7 p.m. Friday against Ball State.
“We’re ready,” Garrison said. “I don’t expect us to be flawless. I don’t expect us to be perfect, but we are prepared. Ball State is a surprising team, so I am very interested to see what they have when they come in here Friday night.”
UK gymnastics Excite Nite
Who: Kentucky vs. Ball State
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Memorial Coliseum