Georgia Gym Dogs Finish First in Early Session, Within One Win of National Championship

The 2009 N.C.A.A. Women’s Gymnastics Championships got underway in Lincoln, Nebr., on Thursday afternoon. The Red and Black were assigned to the first session and the Gym Dogs kept alive the dream of giving retiring head coach Suzanne Yoculan yet another national championship as a parting gift in a triumphant performance over an impressive field.

Top-seeded Georgia drew the same rotation for the initial national meet as for the Southeast Regional and the Red and Black began with a 49.225 in the floor exercise, led by a 9.9 from Tiffany Tolnay and a 9.95 from Courtney Kupets. The Gym Dogs boosted that mark on the vault, posting an overall 49.3 after Kupets earned a 9.9 and Tolnay carded a 9.925.

The Georgia gymnasts moved onward and upward, improving to a 49.375 in their performance on the uneven parallel bars. None of Coach Yoculan’s charges earned a mark below a 9.8 and two---Kupets and Grace Taylor---collected scores of 9.9 or better.

The Red and Black saved their best for last. Even though Hilary Mauro opened with a fall on the balance beam, the squad rebounded to notch a 49.55 behind a pair of 9.95s from Courtney McCool and Taylor, which were set alongside Kupets’s perfect 10.

Kupets, who received her fifth perfect mark of the year and has carded at least one 10 in every event this season, captured the all-around title for the meet, a feat she has achieved 13 times in 14 competitions in 2009. Tolnay’s all-around 39.5 trailed only Kupets’s record-tying 39.8 as the best mark posted in the first session of the N.C.A.A.s.

Only L.S.U., which garnered 9.95s from Ashleigh Clare-Kearney and Susan Jackson, outpaced Georgia in the vault, and no team equaled the Gym Dogs on the bars, the beam, or the floor. The Red and Black’s cumulative tally of 197.45 earned the Bulldog gymnasts a first-place finish ahead of runner-up Florida (196.375), bronze medalist Louisiana State (196.3), and also-rans Stanford (196.225), Penn State (196.1), and Oklahoma (195.825).

With the victory, Georgia clinched a spot in Friday night’s Super Six, where the Gym Dogs will go for their tenth total, and fifth consecutive, national championship against S.E.C. opponents Florida and L.S.U. from the first session and the top three teams from the second session, which is underway as I write and which includes perennial national powers Alabama, U.C.L.A., and Utah.

Go ‘Dawgs!

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