Every sport has its great rivalries. Major league baseball has the Red Sox and the Yankees, the National Football League has the Cowboys and the Redskins, and NCAA women’s gymnastics has Georgia and Alabama. Suzanne Yoculan delighted in needling, and defeating, Sarah Patterson, but the Gym Dogs’ decline under Jay Clark deprived the rivalry of much of its luster, as the Athenians had not beaten the Tide since the 2009 Super Six, since which we have been forced to watch ‘Bama win back-to-back national championships. On Saturday afternoon, Danna Durante’s Gym Dogs declared that the rivalry had been rejoined, winning by a 197.5-196.95 margin in a meet between competing elites.
At the annual alumni meet in Stegeman Coliseum, No. 8 Georgia started out on the vault, where no Red and Black gymnast carded a score lower than 9.825. Led by freshman Brittany Rogers’s season-high tying 9.9, junior Lindsey Cheek’s season-high tying 9.925, and freshman Brandie Jay’s career-best 9.95, the Gym Dogs notched a stellar season-high 49.475 on the apparatus. This gave the home team an early lead on the No. 5 Crimson Tide, who earned a 48.95 on the bars in the first rotation.
The two teams switched positions, and the Red and Black tallied a 49.275 on the bars. No Athenian received a mark below 9.8, and the rotation was highlighted by Rogers’s season-high tying 9.9 and sophomore Chelsea Davis’s 9.925, which captured her sixth bars championship of the season. Despite representing the Tide’s second-best score of the season on the apparatus, Alabama’s 49.375 on the vault left Georgia leading, 98.75-98.325, at the midpoint of the meet.
Another superb score for the Gym Dogs followed on the beam, where the Red and Black compiled a season-high 49.425 due to five scores of 9.85 or better, including a trio of 9.875s (two of which were by senior Noel Couch, who was competing in her first meet of the campaign after returning from injury, and Rogers, who set a new career high) and junior Kaylan Earls’s career-high 9.95. Despite the Tide’s season-best 49.475 on the floor, Georgia’s 148.175-147.8 lead marked the Red and Black’s best score of the season at the end of three rotations.
The Gym Dogs finished the meet on the floor, where they again registered three 9.875s (from Couch, Earls, and senior Christa Tanella). Together with Jay’s career-high 9.9, the home team cobbled together an overall 49.325 mark to outdistance Alabama’s 49.15 and seal the deal. Against historically their most significant, and even still their most despised, rival, the Red and Black came up big, earning the Athenians’ best mark of the season in a competition in which Alabama put up a more than respectable 196.95 total. Noel Couch came back from injury and notched a pair of 9.875s, including one as the anchor for the floor exercise, while freshmen sensations Brandie Jay and Brittany Rogers between them tallied four scores of 9.9 or better.
In every way a regular-season gymnastics meet can matter, this result was huge. A sidelined senior returned to action and excelled. Outstanding underclassmen stepped up impressively. The Gym Dogs beat the rival Georgia fans most want to defeat, improving to 3-0 in SEC competition in the process. As they were known for doing under Coach Yoculan, the Red and Black performed at their best on the grandest stage.
Predictably, Coach Patterson went into full-fledged excuse-making mode after the familiar feeling of losing to a well-coached Georgia club, whining afterward: “I've said this before, from the time that coaching staff was hired, they had this meet circled in red on their calendar. We came in with a target on our backs.” Today’s outcome, coupled with the delightful sound of Sarah Patterson whimpering, provides the surest sign we have yet seen that Coach Durante was the right woman to put the proudest program in the sport back where it belongs . . . at the top.