LEXINGTON, Ky. – The University of Kentucky gymnastics team kicks of its 2008 campaign with the 24th annual Excite Night, Saturday, Jan., 12 at 5:45 ET. The 24th-ranked UK team welcomes No. 19 Auburn to Memorial Coliseum as both teams begin their seasons.
Kentucky will be under the direction of fifth year head coach Mo Mitchell. Under his tutelage, the Wildcats have finished ranked among the nation’s top-25 in three consecutive seasons and have advanced to the NCAA Central Regional in each of those years.
“I am excited about this season,” Mitchell said. “My expectations are for this team to go to nationals and finish in the upper half of the SEC. Our success is going to come from the mindset of our athletes. If they believe they can achieve it, they will. They are going to have to have the will to win.”
That excitement certainly has generated a lot of interest in the Kentucky gymnastics community as the Wildcats ranked sixth nationally in attendance last season, averaging 2,819 fans per meet. Kentucky has ranked in the top 12 nationally in attendance in each of Mitchell’s four seasons at the helm.
“We have the best fans in the nation,” Mitchell said. “I know that just like us, they want to see us place even better than sixth. It is exciting for them to see some of the hardest-working athletes in the country perform at their best.”
Kentucky continued its success on vault last season as two team scores and six individual marks ranked among the best in school annals. The vault will be under the direction of first-year assistant coach Chuck Dickerson, who brings more than 25 years of coaching expertise to the event. His emphasis on training and conditioning will again make the vault one of the team’s strong points in 2008.
“With the acquisition of Chuck as our new vault coach, I am excited about what we can do on that event this year,” Mitchell said. “I am looking for us to smash school vault records numerous times during the season.”
Kentucky will have to compensate for the loss of one of its best vault performers in recent history as 2006 NCAA Central Region vault champion Krystle Cook completed her eligibility last season, a year in which she claimed three individual titles in the event.
Sophomore Emilie Rymer established herself as one of the team’s leaders on vault during her rookie campaign. Rymer posted scores of 9.9 or better in two meets last season and claiming individual meet titles on both of those occasions. She averaged a squad-best 9.8 on the event a year ago.
Fellow sophomore Emily Green will also be a strong vault contender as she ranked second last season among UK’s regular competitors on the event with an average of 9.760. She broke the 9.8 mark on three occasions during the course of the year.
Natalie Rubinstein, who broke 9.8 six times on vault in her freshman season, returns as a junior to contribute to the team’s vault success. Also returning is senior Kristen O’Shields, who was UK’s most consistent vault performer two years ago. Eleven of her 13 scores during the 2006 campaign were 9.7 or higher.
Kentucky looks to show improvement on the bars in 2008, but it won’t have to look far for a pair of experienced competitors. Though only sophomores, Hillary Ferguson and Jamie Reimann gained valuable experience on the event last season and return to lead the way for the Wildcats.
They have big shoes to fill as bars were the best event for Cook, who went over the 9.9 mark four times during the 2007 campaign and won two individual event titles.
“We want to hit on bars,” Mitchell said. “That is so important and we want to make that a habit.”
Ferguson led the team last season with a 9.602 average on bars, recording a collegiate-best 9.7 mark in the team’s meet at Florida.
Reimann specialized in the bars during her first season as a Wildcat, competing exclusively in the event in each of team’s 13 meets.
Rubinstein should also be a strong competitor in the event, as she was UK’s second-best athlete on the bars in 2006 and averaged a 9.778 in two meets last year.
Traditionally one of the toughest events for teams across the nation, the balance beam proved to be a strength of the 2007 Kentucky gymnastics squad under the direction of second-year assistant coach Jackie McCarter.
The Wildcats recorded three of the top beam scores in school history as a team on the event, led by returning junior Heather Hite.
Hite concluded the season with nine consecutive scores of 9.8 or better with her three individual crowns coming during that stretch. Hite became the first Wildcat to record a 9.95 since 13-time All-America selection Jenny Hansen scored a 9.95 on beam twice during her illustrious career.
Rymer was impressive in her first year on the beam, averaging a 9.708 on the event and going over the 9.8 mark five times during the course of the 2007 season, including a career-best mark of 9.875.
“Beam is generally where you win and lose a lot of meets,” Mitchell said. “We expect to do well on the beam and win a lot of meets. We're very fortunate to have Jackie in charge of making sure our team is together on beam. I don't think too many coaches across the country can compete with her ability and accomplishments as a beam coach.”
The Wildcats are looking for a breakout season on floor exercise under the direction of first-year assistant coach Jill Peck. Peck brings nearly 12 years of dance experience and more than 15 years as a gymnastics coach to the squad.
“We are happy to have Jill Peck join our coaching staff as a volunteer coach,” Mitchell said. “She has many years of gymnastics experience and is a phenomenal dancer. We have high expectations for what she can do for us on floor.”
Peck and Kentucky have a strong foundation to build from heading into the 2008 campaign. The Cats recorded five scores that ranked among the top in school history last season, including a season-best 49.300 in a quad meet hosted by Arizona.
Hite was phenomenal on floor, claiming three titles in the team’s last six meets and eclipsing the 9.9 plateau in four of the final six meets, a feat that also had not been accomplished since Hansen’s career as a Wildcat. During the course of the season, Hite won four floor exercise titles.
Ferguson notched the team’s best average on floor last season with a 9.798 mark and captured two individual floor exercise titles. She scored better than a 9.8 in 10 of the team’s 13 meets and twice recorded a 9.9 or better.
Rymer came on strong on floor late in the season, tallying a 9.8 or better in six of the squad’s last seven meets. She recorded a career-best 9.875 in a quad meet hosted by Arizona.
“We feel floor is the event we want to slam the door on,” Mitchell said. “It gets the fans excited and it is our last event at all of our home meets. We want to put on a strong show on floor because we want the fans to leave the arena wanting more.”
Four gymnasts last season emerged as regular all-around performers for the Wildcats. Rymer returns as the Cats’ all-around leader, posting an average of 38.827 a year ago. She led UK in four consecutive meets to close out the regular season, including a personal-best mark of 39.400 in a quad meet at Texas Woman’s University.
Rymer, along with Ferguson, Green and newcomer Andrea Mitchell, ashould factor in the mix to score as all-around competitors this season, Mitchell said.
For the second year in a row, the Wildcats will not necessarily have many gymnasts take the floor as all-around competitors due to added depth on all four event apparatuses.
About the 2008 Excite Night:
Excite Night has provided a triumphant start to the Kentucky gymnastics season for the past 23, and this year is no different as the Wildcats take on Auburn on Jan. 12 in a meet regionally televised by Fox Sports Net South.
For the third consecutive season, the Wildcats expect this year’s Excite Night to be the biggest and best in the history of the event. Last season, the Wildcats performed in front of a school-record crowd of 6,875 fans.
More than 4,000 fans have attended ach of the past three Excite Nights, while 6,000 or more have been in attendance at the last two.
The Wildcats, who finished last season ranked 23rd nationally, ranked sixth in the nation in attendance with an average of 2,819 fans per home meet after finishing 21st the year before. Auburn is one of five teams traveling to Lexington that finished in last season’s top 25 poll.
The doors to the event open at 4:45 p.m. EST with activities beginning at 5:45 p.m. This year’s pre-meet show, which is sure to excite fans of all ages, will feature All That, finalists from 2006 America’s Got Talent. The first 1,000 fans will receive free glow sticks and glow necklaces.
Schedule of Events
4:45 p.m. – The doors open to what will be the largest crowd in UK gymnastics history for the third consecutive year
5:45 p.m. – Meet activities start with a special act by All That
5:55 p.m. – The 2008 Kentucky gymnastics team is introduced for the first time this year
6 p.m. – Kentucky vs. Auburn meet begins.
Season tickets (reserved seats) are available for just $10 each by stopping by the UK Ticket Office in the Joe Craft Center, or by calling toll-free at (800) 928-2287. Kentucky ranked sixth in the nation in attendance last season with an average of 2,819 fans per home meet, after finishing 21st the year before.
Fans can also purchase admission to all gymnastics meets by buying the Olympic Sports Pass. One pass gains admission to all Olympic sporting events - Baseball, Softball, Gymnastics, Men's Soccer, Women's Soccer, and Volleyball. Individual passes are $25, family passes (2 adults, up to 3 youth) are $40.
Single-meet tickets are available on meet day at the Joe Craft Center Ticket Office.
Parking for the event is available in the lots adjacent to Rose St. and Lexington Ave., as well as the Student Center. Additional parking for the 2008 Excite Night is available in Parking Structure 5 located on Limestone.