Kentucky didn’t do anything out of the ordinary to prepare for the Norman regional final. In the pre-meet team meeting, head coach Tim Garrison told his team all he needed from them was what he’d already seen them build to all season.
“[We told them] you just need to be who you are consistently individually and collectively as a group,” he said.
That attitude certainly paid off. The Wildcats set a program record 49.575 on beam in the first rotation. During the second, the leading Sooners moved to beam, where leadoff Jenna Dunn fell, and then Olivia Trautman did as well in the second spot. It was the first time Oklahoma had counted a fall all year, and its lowest rotation score all season.
Garrison was aware of the falls but didn’t think about it much.
“I thought Oklahoma was going to be able to come back and get through anyway,” he said.
During the same rotation, Kentucky had some minor errors on floor but successfully minimized deductions. Garrison thought he saw Jillian Procasky, who was in the corner opposite the beam ready to begin her first pass when Trautman fell, see the error and get distracted for a moment.
She had an off-kilter punch into a front layout but still pulled the salto around and landed well. It was more or less the way the lineup went, using experience to minimize slightly off moments.
Procasky, who had a fine but not up to her high standards day in Thursday’s semifinal, was strong across the board. Her 9.800 on floor was her low mark, with her other three scores a 9.900 or better.
She didn’t think about specific areas for improvement coming into today; the focus was on forgetting Thursday and moving on.
“Our motto all season has been to keep fighting,” she said, and that was what she came here to do.
The Wildcats fought the entire meet, ceding the lead to the Sooners after Oklahoma had a historically good floor rotation in the third but fending off strong Alabama and Ohio State teams to remain in second the rest of the day.
The Wildcat faithful traveled well, and the team appreciated it. Procasky said they focused on bringing their own energy, but having fans in the building was “incredible.”
“A meet like this where it’s all red, to see a little bit of blue out there is great,” she said.
Kentucky finished the evening on bars, notching a 197.850 behind Oklahoma’s 198.050. The Wildcats watched from their corral as Alabama finished on floor. Ohio State’s last beam routine couldn’t catch Kentucky, and the reality began to sink in.
The Wildcats’ only other nationals appearance came in 2018, the year before the change to the current format, where they finished No. 12. Kentucky is guaranteed to finish No. 8 or better, which will be the best finish in program history.
Garrison isn’t putting much pressure on the historic moment. He’s going to pull his team together and talk about little things that need to be cleaned up, especially dismounts.
“We’re not just going to have a conversation about it,” he said. “We’re going to actually put action behind it.”
That means breaking things down and working on dismounts and all of the landings that can garner deductions and add up over the course of a meet. Ultimately, though, Garrison keeps coming back to just asking his team to be themselves.
Kentucky will compete with Oklahoma alongside Utah and UCLA—the advancing teams from the Los Angeles regional final—in the national semifinal on April 13.
Article by Emily Minehart
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