I don’t want to put too much emphasis on one competition, but the fact is that Jay Clark lost his first meet against Auburn, and I never forgave him for it. On Friday night, Danna Durante led her eighth-ranked Georgia gymnasts against No. 24 Auburn, and the good gals took care of business in a 196.05-195.7 victory.
The two teams took turns on the bars and on the vault in the first two rotations, with the Gym Dogs prevailing on each apparatus. The bars saw Georgia record scores of 9.85 (by junior Lindsey Cheek and senior Shayla Worley), 9.875 (by freshman Brittany Rogers and senior Christa Tanella), and 9.95 (by sophomore Chelsea Davis, who thereby tied her career-best mark) for a cumulative season-high 49.4 to outpace Auburn’s 49.125 in the same event. The Red and Black’s vault scores included sophomore Sarah Persinger’s 9.825, Rogers’s 9.85, and Cheek’s 9.9 for an overall 49.15 tally to edge the Plainswomen’s 49.0 on that apparatus and give the Athenians a 98.55-98.125 edge at the midpoint of the meet.
The Gym Dogs lost ground on the beam during the third rotation, when Georgia was forced to count a 9.275. Even with Persinger’s 9.825 and Worley’s 9.85, the Red and Black only were able to manage a 48.5, which trailed the 48.8 Auburn registered in the floor exercise to pull within 147.05-146.925 heading into the competition’s final stanza.
In the fourth rotation, with Georgia on the floor and the Tigers on the beam, the Gym Dogs delivered a strong finish. Bolstered by junior Kaylan Earls’s 9.85, freshman Brandie Jay’s and Tanella’s 9.875s, and Persinger’s 9.9, the Red and Black compiled an overall 49.0 score. Auburn managed only a 48.775 on its last apparatus.
Clearly, the continued absence of senior Noel Couch from the lineup is hurting the Gym Dogs, who remain plagued by inconsistency: Lindsey Cheek and Brittany Rogers both posted scores of 9.85 or better on the bars and on the vault, but both earned marks of 9.275 or below on the beam, whereas Shayla Worley followed up 9.85s on the bars and on the beam with a 9.375 in the floor exercise. Such lapses will matter against tougher competition, but the Red and Black earned cumulative marks of 49.0 or better in three of four rotations while counting a dozen individual scores of 9.85 or higher.
The scoring trend---from 196.45 in the opening meet against Oklahoma to 196.2 last week against Arkansas to 196.05 tonight---has been disturbingly downward in its trajectory, and the quality of the competition is about to climb steeply upward, as the Gym Dogs face No. 10 Stanford on Monday, compete next weekend in the Metroplex Challenge, and host sixth-ranked despised rival Alabama on February 2. Nevertheless, Georgia’s struggles presently are with injuries and inconsistency, not with inability or incompetence. The most storied college women’s gymnastics program in the history of the sport has a long way to go to be back at the lofty level it occupied under Suzanne Yoculan, but the glass is more full than it was in the Jay Clark era, and the waterline is rising.