Gym Cats to host NCAA Central Regionals


Senior Emilie Rymer performs on the balance beam during the match against Florida at Memorial Coliseum on Friday. Photo by Zach Brake

By Chandler Howard

The UK gymnastics team looks to soar higher than ever before.

This Saturday will see another milestone for the Gym Cats and their illustrious season. UK was one of 36 teams that qualified to compete in the regional round of the NCAA gymnastics tournament. This is the sixth consecutive year UK has advanced to the regional competition.

An advantage for the Cats is that they will compete at Memorial Coliseum, which has been selected as the site for the NCAA Central Regional Championship. This marks the first time since 1997 UK will host any segment of the NCAA gymnastics tournament.

Seventh-year UK head coach Hajile “Mo” Mitchell said the advantage would be evident only if enough UK fans attend the competition.

“If we aren’t careful, we will have more Alabama fans show up than our fans,” Mitchell said. “They travel well and they expect big things. We can’t let another team come in and take over our arena. I am challenging our fans to come out and be louder than they are. Don’t sit on your hands, either — it’s not a golf match.”

UK, ranked No. 20, will face off against No. 1 Alabama, No. 12 Nebraska, No. 13 Illinois, No. 24 Central Michigan and No. 27 Michigan State. The top two teams will advance to face the additional 10 regional qualifiers at the NCAA Championship finals in Gainesville, Fla.,  April 22 through 24.

“Our sport is unique in the sense that there is no defense or interaction between teams,” Mitchell said. “We have no part in how well the other teams do. Our goal is to do our job so well that they worry about us. But we absolutely feel like we are able to be one of the teams that advance.”

The lone difference for the regional tournament compared to a standard competition will be the number of judges for each event. Instead of the traditional two judging officials, there will be four. The highest and lowest of the four scores will be dropped and the middle two will be averaged to find the final score. This is a system Mitchell believes will lead to a less biased competition.

UK is currently coming off a seventh-place finish at the Southeastern Conference Championship. Despite a strong regular season, the Cats felt they fell short in the conference tournament.

“We were in a great position to finish fourth, which is good for the SEC,” Mitchell said. “But we allowed it to slip away in our last event. Now that the team has felt something like that, I plan on that being its own motivation. We have learned from that experience and we will do better this time.”

The Cats have had one of their most consistent seasons in program history. UK has ranked in the national top 25 in each of the previous 12 weeks, the longest streak since 1998. The team is nationally ranked 14th in floor exercise, 16th on vault, tied for 18th on the uneven bar and 28th on the balance beam.

Although UK has never finished higher than fourth at the regional competition under Mitchell, it now hopes to build on its recent success at the most crucial point in its season.

“We train all season for this moment, for this day,” Mitchell said. “We feel like we have a shot. We believe that we have just as much of an opportunity to advance as the teams around us. This (UK) team is trying to take the program to a level it has never been before. We know we can do it.”