The wait was long for the Kentucky gymnastics team, but well worth it in the end.
In front of a sold-out crowd at an electric Rupp Arena, the Wildcats opened the 2018 season at Excite Night...finally.
"Anticipation is the greatest word, because we were anticipating this night for the longest time," head coach Tim Garrison said. Carrying the highest preseason ranking in program history - No. 10 - Kentucky claimed victory in a quad meet over Ball State, Southeast Missouri and George Washington with a score of 196.075. To make it even better, 10,006 fans filled Rupp's lower level to watch the Cats.
"It was so awesome," Sidney Dukes said. "The fans were amazing. Big Blue Nation is the best fan base in the world. We love them and we are thankful for all of their support."
It was the official start of the season for the Cats, but they saved their best for last on Friday night. Closing on the floor, UK's final five performers had scores of 9.825 or better.
"It's good to see because we need floor to be a solid event for us this year and floor has had potential," Garrison said. "Last year we were good on the floor, but we never, I don't think, really realized our potential. This right here, starting off this way on floor tonight, is huge for us."
Dukes punctuated the performance on floor. The junior's 9.900 was the highest score of the evening in any event.
"It was really good finishing on floor," Dukes said. "I feel like floor is always one of our strongest events as a team just because we get to show off our personality and it's just something for everyone to have fun with. I feel like when we finished off strong on that, it was just kind of an all-around good feeling to finish off our first meet, even though we have steps to build to the next one."
Garrison believes Excite Night will be a big help in that process of building this UK team. Normally the Cats would open the season in the familiar surroundings of Memorial Coliseum, but Garrison wanted to get his team out of its comfort zone this time around.
"You get in this environment, just the feel of this arena, it's just a completely different world for us," Garrison said.
That different world likely had something to do with some inconsistency for the Cats through their first couple rotations, but Garrison didn't mind seeing that. His goal, after all, is to prepare his team for the postseason, when unfamiliar surroundings are an unavoidable part of the deal.
"I love it," Garrison said. "I think that's great, because the big thing that I'm looking for this year is for us to progress competing away from comfortable environment. We are solid in Memorial Coliseum, or have been. Last year it was a solid place for us to compete, and should be. SECs is going to be on the road. Our regional meet is going to be on the road. We need to be comfortable in different environments."