NCAA championship showcases 2 UK gymnasts

Anthony Crawford

UK gymnastics closed its season on a high note, sending two freshmen to represent as individual all-around competitors for the Cats in the NCAA championships held in Fort Worth, Texas.

Underclassmen Sidney Dukes and Alex Hyland became the 13th and 14th UK gymnasts to qualify for the NCAA championships with their berths to the 2016 national championships. Both gained valuable experience, this being their first time in such a major event, and Dukes was able to put together a strong enough performance to become UK’s fourth All-American.

Dukes struggled at first in her opening events on the vault and bars, but she turned her performance around on the balance beam scoring a 9.8875, the fourth-highest score in the first session.

The score on the balance beam was high enough for the freshman to earn a spot on First Team All-American, joining Jenny Hansen as the only other First Team All-American in the program’s history.

“The most impressive part of (Dukes’) performance was it wasn’t her first event,” head coach Tim Garrison said. “She struggled on bars. She got up for the first event of the national championships on a podium, TV cameras everywhere, and she didn’t perform as well as she is capable of doing. And what does she do to answer that? She steps up the very next routine and becomes a First Team All-American. It goes back to what our team has done all year.”

Hyland got off to a strong start, earning scores of 9.8 from five of the six judges in the floor event. Her performance stayed steady throughout the event until she closed on the balance beam with her best score of the day, 9.825. Her good showing overall was enough to earn a 15th-place finish in the session.

With the two young gymnasts impresssing on the big stage early in their careers, UK gymnastics is heading in the right direction as a whole.

“I’m so proud that both Sidney (Dukes) and Alex (Hyland) are here, representing Kentucky gymnastics,” Garrison said. “Obviously they’re representing themselves, but they’re here representing our entire team. They are an example of where this team is heading and their performance is proof of that.”