The #1-ranked Florida Gators (who I hate) rolled into Athens (which I love) on Saturday night. And, unfortunately for the good
guys gals, Rhona Faehn's squad left the Classic City with a big 197.300-196.175 victory.
The Gym Dogs started very strongly with a massive 49.55 vault rotation, their season-high for any rotation on any apparatus. They were led by magnificent freshman Brandie Jay, who scored a 9.975. (That means she got a 10 from one judge and a 9.95 from the Soviet judge.) Noel Couch returned from injury to perform her first vault of the season, carding a career-high 9.925. Vault specialist Lindsey Cheek scored a 9.9, and Chelsea Davis also carded a 9.875. Florida managed a 49.375 on bars in their first rotation, leaving the Dawgs in the lead after one.
Georgia continued in the second rotation with another season-high apparatus score on bars with a 49.45. Chelsea Davis led the way, scoring a 9.95, and Brittany Rogers continued her impressive freshman season by contributing a 9.925. Senior Shayla Worley came through big with a 9.90, and Christa Tanella rounded out the apparatus with a 9.875. Florida countered with a 49.475 on vault, meaning that Georgia had outscored the Gators on both of the first two apparatuses.
Overall, the first two rotations went ideally for the Gym Dogs, who led the #1 team in the country 99.0 - 98.85 at "halftime." Then, we encountered the apparatus which has long been our nemesis: balance beam.
Georgia lost the meet in a nightmare third rotation on beam with 48.125. Lindsey Cheek and Brittany Rogers both turned in excellent 9.90 scores, and Sarah Persinger carded what would normally be a "safety" score of 9.725, but seniors Shayla Worley and Noel Couch both fell, as did junior Kaylan Earls. The Gym Dogs had to count Worley's 9.35 and one of the 9.25's earned by both Couch and Earls. (Each team's lowest score of the rotation is dropped.) Florida carded a 49.150 floor rotation, which gave the Gators a prohibitive lead of 148.0-147.125 after 3 rotations.
After the third rotation, it was clear the meet was over unless Florida collapsed on beam, and that might have weighed on the Gym Dogs as they put in a good-but-not-great score of 49.050 on floor, led by Noel Couch's 9.90.
In spite of losing to Florida, which I despise (both losing to them and the Gators themselves), I was somewhat encouraged by Danna Durante's remarks after the game (emphasis mine):
We got off to a great start today, but we need to be able to keep that momentum going until the end of the meet.
We pulled [our girls] out into the hall after the meet and said we're not going to accept the fact that we are not a good beam team. We need to be more confident, and we need to help them grow into that. Still, there were a lot of good things today we can build off going into next week
This final score was very close to the two squads' average scores over the entire season. The average scores to this point (on which the official NCAA gymnastics rankings are based) are 197.296 for the Gators and 196.396 for 9th-ranked Georgia. Unfortunately, this reflects the fact that, in 2013, the Gators simply have a better squad than the Gym Dogs.
Still, in spite of the results, I like what I'm hearing from Coach Durante. No excuses and no complacency. Unlike our previous coach, she's not satisfied with giving up on a season or saying things like "Well, we're just not going to be very good this year." She wants to help our team get better as the season rolls on, and she's not happy to accept the fact that we just suck on one apparatus.
Ain't nobody gonna be happy with a loss to Florida, but in season one, I'd still say the future is bright for Danna's Dawgs. Tonight's score of 196.175, in spite of the disastrous beam rotation, would probably be almost good enough to get us to the Super Six at the NCAA tourney, which is our goal for this year, and our freshmen and juniors are coming up big, which portends well for the future.
Georgia's last two conference meets will be on the road, starting next Friday in lovely Columbia, Missouri, against the unranked Mizzou Tigers. (Let's hope they didn't book their travel at the Tiger Hotel.) After their conference schedule wraps up, the Gym Dogs' next home meet is scheduled for March 9 against the Utah Red Rocks. (Yes, that's what they call their gymnastics team.)