The first, and most important, thing to know is that the 2013 season marks a major turning point for the Gym Dogs. For the first time in 30 years, Georgia's Gymnastics team will not be led by Suzanne Yoculan or one of her assistant coaches that has been Johnny Griffith'ed (or, if you prefer, Ray Goff'd) into the head coaching spot.
Instead, Danna Durante will be embarking upon her first year at the helm of the Gym Dogs' program. Coach Durante served as the head coach of Cal's gymnastics team for one year in 2012, and prior to that had been a longtime assistant at the University of Nebraska, including being named the National Assistant Coach of the year for the Lady Huskers in 2007. She has also worked as an assistant at the University of Washington, and competed as a collegiate gymnast at Arizona State.
Coach Durante inherits a program that has some great talent, but which has seen a slump in form over the last 3 years compared to the lofty heights established by its predecessors. The Gym Dogs never failed to finish among the "Super Six" (top six programs in the NCAA finals) from 1993-2009, but since have not managed better than a tenth-place finish in the NCAA finals. To arrest that downward momentum and return the Georgia gymnastics program to its former glory, Coach Durante will be relying upon the following ladies:
- Kati Breazeal - Kati didn't perform in any competitive rotations until last year, but she did work her way into the rotation on beam and vault in 2012. Her her season highs from last year were 9.8 on vault and 9.825 on beam.
- Noel Couch - Noel has been a bedrock on this team for the last two years, and is undeniably the keystone around which the entire team's success will be built. In 2012, she set a UGA record for the most consecutive meets competing in the all-around competition in a career. Noel will again be an all-around competitor. Her season highs from last year were 9.9 on vault, 9.95 on floor, 9.9 on beam, and 9.875 on bars.
- Christa Tanella - Christa has struggled with consistency throughout her career, though she became a regular contributor on bars and floor in 2012. Her season highs from last year were 9.875 on bars, 9.85 on floor, and 9.85 on beam.
- Shayla Worley - Shayla is expected to be the "other bedrock" of this team (along with Noel Couch), and like Couch will be critical to the Gym Dogs success this year. Unfortunately, that's somewhat of a problematic issue, since Worley's career at Georgia could very fairly be classified as a disappointment. She's struggled with various injuries over the years, including a particularly heartbreaking broken leg that caused her to miss the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials. She was expected to come to Georgia and make a huge impact, but unfortunately that just hasn't happened, and she wasn't even an all-around competitor last year. Let's hope that for 2013 she'll be able to pull it together and live up to the potential we all believed she had back when she started at Georgia in 2010. Her season highs from last year were 9.875 on floor, 9.95 on beam, and 9.875 on bars. (She did not compete on vault in any events.)
- Bekah Bennetts - Bekah is a vault specialist, though she had a season-ending injury as a freshman and did not compete in any meets in 2012.
- Lindsey Cheek - Lindsey missed part of the 2012 season with a back injury, but returned to compete in three meets, including an impressive 9.95 on vault (her season high) at the NCAA Prelims.
- Kaylan Earls - Kaylan suffered a ruptured Achilles' tendon just prior to her freshman season, but rebounded nicely in 2012 to become a solid contributor on beam, vault, and floor. Her season highs from last year were 9.9 on beam, 9.875 on vault, and 9.85 on floor.
- Cat Hires - Cat was one of the strongest competitors on vault in 2012. Her season high was 9.925 on vault, 9.825 on floor, and 9.35 on beam.
- Chelsea Davis - Chelsea made a huge impact as a freshman, competing in 3 events in the majority of meets. Her strengths so far have been vault and bars, in which she competed in every meet last year. Her season highs were 9.9 on vault, 9.95 on bars, 9.875 on beam, and 9.9 on floor.
- Demetria Hunte - Demetria did not compete in any events as a freshman.
- Whitney Kirby - Whitney did not compete in any events as a freshman.
- Sarah Persinger - Sarah also had a high-impact freshman season, actually earning a spot as an all-around competitor once during the regular season and once at the NCAA regionals. She competed on vault, beam, and floor in every meet but one in 2012. Her season highs were 9.9 on vault, 9.8 on bars, 9.85 on beam, and 9.9 on floor.
- Camille Pfister - Camille did not compete in any events as a freshman.
- Mary Beth Box
- Brandie Jay
- Brittany Rogers
- Anysia Unick
We don't know much about these freshmen, so there's not a lot to say about them yet. The lone exception is Brittany Rogers, who was the star recruit for this Gym Dogs class. Brittany was a member of the 2012 Canadian Olympic team, and helped lead Canada to their first ever team final in a non-boycotted Olympics. We'll definitely be looking for great things from her!
Overall, there is a solid nucleus there. Without knowing how Brittany Rogers will perform in her first year, I expect our best contributors this year to be Noel Couch, Chelsea Davis, Sarah Persinger, and (crosses fingers) Shayla Worley, with Lindsey Cheek being our anchor on vault.
The combined highest scores of all our returning team members from 2012 is 197.950. Clearly, we can't expect every team member to have a season-best performance at the same time, but if that were to happen, this score could easily be enough to win a national championship. (For reference purposes, 2012 national champion Alabama won the national championship with a score of 197.850. Georgia's highest meet score in 2012 was 197.700, and their score in the NCAA Semifinals was 196.500, which only earned them 11th place.)
If we can dial up this kind of score when "the lights are shining the brightest," then this season has the potential to be special indeed. At the very least, as has always been the case at Georgia, our expectation is to make the Super Six at the end of the year. With this group, that is very clearly possible. The question is whether Coach Durante will be able to coax the performances that are needed out of these ladies when it counts the most. For her sake, our seniors' sake, and the fans' sake, I certainly hope she can.
But first things first... we're only ranked #11 in the preseason and are hosting the #4 Sooners in our season opener tomorrow night! We need to get the 2013 season started off right with a big upset win!