Raena Worley competes on floor for Kentucky.

Kentucky Looks to Advance to Nationals, Earn Its History

Kentucky led top to bottom in session two round one of the Norman regional, narrowly upsetting higher-ranked Alabama 197.475-197.375 as both advance to Saturday’s regional final. Both will compete with the winner and runner-up from session two for one of two berths to nationals.

“Looking at the two teams, I think they feel like they survived and honestly, I feel like we survived,” Kentucky head coach Tim Garrison said of the performance. He saw small mistakes, like steps on landings that weren’t necessary, and some out-of-character mistakes from usually solid Isabella Magnelli.

Still, the upset builds confidence going into Saturday’s meet and adds to the consistency the Wildcats have been building all season.

“Beating Alabama was an amazing feeling for us,” Raena Worley said. “We’re going to have to double that on Saturday, and that makes us want to fight even harder, which is fun.”

Garrison isn’t asking his athletes to do anything they haven’t done all year going into the final. Every gymnast knows individually what she needs to do, whether that’s adding a 9.950 or a 9.850.

“They need something tangible,” he said. “They need something real that they can latch on to, they can latch on to how they’re going to approach their events.”

Both Worley and Garrison credit some of Kentucky’s success this year to the closeness of the group. They genuinely enjoy each other’s company and want the best for each other.

Worley, a finalist for the AAI Award, would be Kentucky’s second recipient of the honor after Jenny Hansen won in 1996. She wants to be remembered for more than just her gymnastics, and said winning the award would be “surreal.”

To Garrison, the big accolades are part of the process of growing the program. Worley’s success demonstrates what other Kentucky gymnasts can achieve, and adds national exposure to the program.

Garrison admits that Kentucky just doesn’t have comparable history to some of the most lauded programs in the country.

“It’s earned through history,” he said. The program is getting closer and closer, steadily improving under his tenure. “We’ve been so close, breaking through and getting in that conversation.”

Advancing to the national championship would certainly be a step in that direction. While Kentucky’s performance today was solid, Garrison is almost glad there were mistakes.

“I still feel like we have a lot more, and the athletes know that,” he said.

Worley is ready to keep fighting for a berth to nationals. The senior has thought further ahead, too. “I guess we’ll find out at the end of the year,” she said of potentially using her extra year of eligibility.

Article by Emily Minehart

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