Kentucky put the excitement in Excite Night, which is what the Wildcats annually dub their season opener.
The 24th-ranked Wildcats led wire-to-wire Saturday, scoring 194.35 points to knock off No. 17 Illinois (193.65) and Northern Illinois (189.075) before a Memorial Coliseum crowd of 3,545.
While Illinois was beset by three falls on its first rotation, bars, UK got off to a rousing start in vault, an event won by Whitney Rose.
The Cats closed out on floor exercise, where Andrea Mitchell, Jasmine Minion, Phylicia Reshard and Rose swept the top four spots.
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"Vault is typically a good event for us and floor, they had that momentum," said Chuck Dickerson, who shares UK interim coaching duties with Heather Hite. "When you get that momentum on that last event, it just makes it so fun. All the momentum was with them and they showed their heart and soul."
Dickerson and Hite took charge in October, when UK abruptly announced that head coach Mo Mitchell was no longer with the team. No reason was given for Mitchell's departure and Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said then that a national search will be conducted before the post is filled for the 2011-12 season.
The gymnasts seem to have adjusted just fine.
"It's great," Andrea Mitchell said of the transition. "It's so good to communicate with them. I can relate to them and talk to them but, at the same time, they challenge us, and that's what we need."
UK scored 48.525 on vault. Rose, a junior from Frisco, Texas, scored 9.80 for her 10th career title.
"I love anchoring the team on vault," she said. "That's one of my more comfortable and strong events, so it's just awesome to finish out that event."
Illinois scored 48.00 on bars and never recovered.
UK moved from vault to bars, scoring 48.70. Sophomore Caitlyn Ciokajlo tied for top honors with Illinois' Jaclyn Kantecki, each at 9.825.
The Wildcats didn't fare as well on beam, scoring 48.050 to the Illini's 48.650. Still, UK led by .175 going into the final rotation.
Mitchell, a senior from Knoxville, was last to go on floor, immediately after Minion took the lead with a 9.925. Mitchell came in with a career-high 9.950 for her fourth career title.
"I had to have fun," Mitchell said. "Everybody tells me if I just go out there and have fun I'm going to do it, so I did. I was so calm, and it's the best feeling."
Mitchell placed third in the all-around with 38.975. Illinois' Allison Buckley and Kelsey Joannides shared first at 39.050.
Kentucky 194.350, Illinois 193.650, Northern Illinois 189.075
All-Around — (tie) Allison Buckley and Kelsey Joannides (Ill.) 39.050; Andrea Mitchell (UK) 38.975. Vault — (UK 48.525, Ill. 48.500, NIU 47.500) Whitney Rose (UK) 9.80; (tie) Jasmine Minion (UK), and Allison Buckley (Ill.) 9.775. Bars — (UK 48.700, Ill. 48.00, NIU 47.40) (tie) Caitlyn Ciokajlo (UK) and Jaclyn Kantecki (Ill.) 9.825; Storey Morris (UK) 9.80. Beam — (Ill. 48.650, UK 48.050, NIU 47.375) Kelsey Joannides (Ill.) 9.850; Melissa Fernandez (Ill.) 9.825; Allison Buckley (Ill.) 9.750. (UK: 4. Storey Morris, 9.725.) Floor — (UK 48.100, Ill. 48.500, NIU 47.225) Andrea Mitchell (UK) 9.950; Jasmine Minion (UK) 9.925; Phylicia Reshard (UK) 9.875.