Depth Paying Dividends for UK Gymnastics
The story of the 2022 Kentucky gymnastics season so far has been Raena Worley. And why not? The junior from Christiansburg, Virginia, has won SEC Gymnast of the Week not once, not twice, but three consecutive weeks to start the season.
Worley’s individual accomplishments are worthy of celebration, but the Wildcats are also off to a very solid start on the team side of things as well. UK has beaten nationally ranked Missouri and Ball State early in the campaign. The Cats’ only loss so far was at No. 10 Alabama.
Last season, Kentucky came up just short of making it to the NCAA Championship meet. That’s one of UK’s goals for this year. Worley will be leading the way for the Cats but she can’t do it all by herself. And that’s where Kentucky’s depth will play a huge role.
Head coach Tim Garrison has the luxury of being able to turn to a number of gymnasts to fill particular roles on this year’s squad. Whereas, in the past, UK might have two or three gymnasts competing in the all-around (all four events), this year, only Worley is doing so. That allows competitors to focus on those events that they do best, and where they can best help the team.
“That’s unusual for us,” Garrison said. “Normally, our formula is three or four all-arounders. But we have numerous people doing two and three events. The other people who are role players, and high-level role players.”
One of those who played a key role on Friday night, as the Cats beat Georgia, Illinois and Central Michigan, was sophomore Bailey Bunn. She scored a 9.825 on bars, a 9.900 on beam and a 9.850 on floor.
For Bunn, it’s just about doing what her team needs.
“I see my role as super important right now, whether that’s cheering the loudest or being in there and scoring as high as I can,” Bunn said. “Honestly, I just want to be there for my team in every way that I can. I try to be the loudest and the most positive, no matter how I’m doing that day.”
As she continues to rehab an early-season injury, Bunn is just about ready to return to the all-around. She and Garrison continue to have those discussions.
“We have had a few conversations about me being back in the all-around,” Bunn said. “I’ve been working super hard. I did have an injury at the beginning of the season and I pulled myself out. But now, I’m totally ready to go.”
Garrison knows that having depth on multiple events makes the team that competes even better.
“Competition within the gym is strong,” Garrison said. “We need eight ready on each event. Right now, we have that eight. There’s competition in the gym to earn the spot and there’s competition in warm ups to keep the spot. It pushes everybody and makes everybody better.”
And the hard work that the team has put in, during the preseason and as the season has gotten underway, is paying off for the Cats.
“The validation of two 197.400-pluses in a row is what this team needed,” Garrison said. “To be able to put it together twice in a row validates everything we’ve done in the preseason.”
The formula with Worley leading the way and several others filling key roles is working for the Cats early on in 2022.