UK gymnastics struggling in SEC, but still a powerhouse


The University of Kentucky gymnastics team takes on the Florida Gators on Friday, January 19, 2018 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Jordan Prather | Staff

Mohammad Ahmad

Before the start of this season for the UK gymnastics team, the team came in with high hopes and expectations from many. UK ranked 10th in the Nationals Preseason Coaches’ Poll this year with 1, 213 points. This is the team’s highest preseason ranking ever.

Last season, UK boasted two All-Americans with Alex Hyland and Mollie Korth. Both players, along with Sidney Dukes, were also All-SEC. Korth was also named SEC Freshman of the Year, as she and Hyland represented Kentucky at the NCAA National Championships last year in St. Louis, Missouri.

Going off of those expectations, head coach Tim Garrison explains that he wants the team to keep competing at a high-level, but with another goal in mind: winning matches.

“If we weren’t able to compete, then it would be ridiculous for us to set the goal of winning,” Garrison said.

So far, the team has gotten conference wins against Auburn and Arkansas. On top of that, they swept George Washington, Ball State, and Southeast Missouri in their season-opening Excite Night matchup.

As of Feb. 16, the Cats were ranked ninth in the nation and have been in the Top 10 all year long. The team is currently fifth in the SEC and sits at No. 7 nationally in the vault and No. 6 in the floor events.

Many players have contributed to Kentucky’s success this year. The defending SEC beam champion of the year, Hyland, leads the team in the beam with a 9.875 average. Korth has won 11 individual events this year, four of them in the vault, and she ranks 25th nationally in the vault event.

Garrison mentioned that the veteran experience of Hyland and Dukes has been integral to Kentucky’s success.

Dukes has been another key part of the supporting cast behind UK’s success. The junior has won three floor titles this year, even tying her own career high against Florida with a 9.925.

“We just finally have the talent and drive the team hasn’t quite had in the past several years. He (Garrison) expects us to come in every day willing to take that next step, even if it means a heavy practice,” Dukes said.

While the team has experienced success in different areas, it’s also had its share of shortcomings. The team has lost four matches this year, and has now lost three matches in a row, including a home loss to Georgia.

“They just need to be more confident. When you’re not confident, you over analyze, and when you over analyze, that’s when you tend to make mistakes. That leads to being rigid with no flow, and that’s what cost us at home,” Garrison said.

Despite the losses, Dukes said the team is undeterred and still driven to win.

“People just need to step up to the challenge and exceed expectations. We’re still a young team, and we just need to be in the moment and not look too far ahead. At the beginning of the year we were still figuring a few things out.”

With the SEC Championships approaching quickly, Garrison feels it’s important to be able to compete against what he sees as the hardest conference.

“Out of the top ten teams in the country, five of them are from the SEC,” Garrison said. “LSU and Florida are title contenders, but we’re so much stronger and competitive now, so it’s become a reality that we can compete against some of the strongest teams.”