New heights: UK gymnastics soars to highest ranking in 12 years


Stormy practices for upcoming meet on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2010. Photo by Britney McIntosh

By Chandler Howard

UK gymnastics is vaulting to new heights.

After beginning the season with a  3-1 overall record (1-0 in the Southeastern Conference), the UK gymnastics team finds itself ranked No. 12 in the nation in total team points scored. This marks the highest position the team has achieved since the 1998 season and, accordingly, the highest rank under seventh-year head coach Hajile “Mo” Mitchell.

Mitchell said the positive attitude held by each athlete and a heightened level of expectations held by the group has allowed the team to reach their current level of success.

“The team is flat-out tired of losing,” Mitchell said. “They have decided to follow the coaches and come up with the recipe for success. So far it has been working.”

This year the Cats took an unconventional route in deciding not to elect team captains, a strategy Mitchell believes will allow leadership to emerge from within the team. Mitchell said senior leadership is a tremendous influence on a team, but it can lead a team up or down.

UK is looking forward to a promising year in 2010, relying in part on the shoulders and experience of the five senior and four junior members of the veteran-laden team.

Storey Morris, a sophomore from Tyler, Texas, who was recruited by many of the top gymnastic programs in the country, said the team is trying to go higher than they ever have before.

“We would love to compete at Nationals,” Morris said. “There has never been a team to do so from UK and we want to be the first.

“The theme for this year has been to raise the bar and to have higher expectations for ourselves and our teammates,” she said. “We support each other in all that we do.”

Currently, three members of the UK team are nationally ranked in individual events. Morris is tied for 17th on the balance beam; Whitney Rose, a sophomore from Frisco, Texas, is tied for 10th on vault and Hillary Ferguson, a senior from Richmond, Ky., is tied for 20th on vault.

“As with any sport, the hard work pays off,” Morris said. “We work out 20 hours a week and do cardio at 6 a.m., which certainly isn’t the fun part. But doing the actual skills and learning them is what first caught my interest. Competing collegiately isn’t so much learning new skills as it is perfecting ones you already know.”

UK predominantly competes against opponents from the SEC, but faces a few non-conference teams, as well. This season  they travel as far Corvallis, Ore., to face Oregon State. The SEC Championships and the NCAA Championship are held in Jacksonville, Fla., and Gainesville, Fla., respectively.

Surprisingly, it is neither the remarkable season the Cats are having nor the practice ethics that satisfy Mitchell the most.

“Not only do our athletes get it done on the playing field but they get it done in the classroom, too,” Mitchell said. “Our team GPA was a little bit over a 3.2 last semester and we are striving to have one of the best grade point averages on campus. We want to make sure we’re doing it right both in the classroom and on the playing field.”