UK gymnastics to ‘defy gravity’ before sellout Rupp Arena crowd


The UK gymnastics team celebrates after an uneven bar routine during the meet against the Florida Gators on Friday, March 4, 2016 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Hunter Mitchell | Staff

Rick Childress

A sold-out crowd will pour into Rupp Arena on Friday night for the highly anticipated Excite Night meet.

This annual gymnastics event, which sold out three weeks ago, will be held in Rupp for the first time. Head coach Tim Garrison said it’s going to be a “special thing” for the team.

“There’s going to be 10,000 people packed into that place,” Garrison said. “So I can only imagine what the energy is going to be like.”

Garrison stressed that watching gymnastics in person is an experience like no other.

“When you see it live,” he said, “it’ll surprise you.”

“You know when you watch the Olympics you almost get an at-home view of it,” said junior UK gymnast Sidney Dukes. “But this is up close and personal with Kentucky gymnastics, and I think that people are really going to enjoy watching us defy gravity and do things that you don’t usually see every day.”

Dukes, who was first-team All-America as a freshman and was named to the All-SEC team the past two years, said performing in front of large crowds adds a “degree of confidence” because she knows that her team, school and fans “have her back.”

“It’s hard to do any sport when it’s quiet and have energy to do it,” Dukes said. “So the fans really bring a lot of excitement and a lot of fun to the meets.”

Last season, the Wildcats finished 14th in the final coaches’ poll. This year, Garrison said the team is characterized by a lot of “confidence” and “optimism,” as the Cats enter the season ranked as No. 10 in the nation.

“Obviously when the flag goes up, we got to salute and we got to compete and see what comes of it,” Garrison said. “Competition’s kind of funny that way. We’ve got to get some questions answered, which is what we’re planning on doing on Friday.”

UK will compete in a quad-meet against Ball State, Southeast Missouri and George Washington. As a quad-meet, every team will compete in all four gymnastic events: vault, uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercises.

Excite Night, which starts at 7 p.m., also promises face painting, balloon animals and the giving away of five UK gymnastic-themed American Girl dolls.

“When you see gymnastics in person it’ll hit you. It’ll really have an impact on you,” Garrison said.

He said he hopes to get “four more sellouts” for the team’s other meets that will take place in Memorial Coliseum later this season.

UK gymnastics upcoming home schedule:

  • Jan. 19 vs. Florida, 7 p.m.
  • Feb. 9 vs. Georgia, 7 p.m.
  • Feb. 23 vs. Missouri, 7 p.m.
  • Mar. 2 vs. Ohio State, 7 p.m.