Indeed, it appears that Georgia's 6th-ranked gymnastics team is peaking at the right time. In their last meet of the regular season, the Gym Dogs posted their highest score of the season and the second-highest score by an away team in any NCAA meet this year, besting the 32nd-ranked NC State Wolfpack 197.800-196.000. Best of all, they did it with an exclamation point by turning in the squad's second-highest score ever (like, Suzanne-Yoculan-ever) on the balance beam.
As is the custom in a dual meet, the visiting Gym Dogs started the evening on the uneven bars. Chelsea Davis carded a 9.925, and senior Shayla Worley and Freshman Brittany Rogers turned in strong efforts of 9.85 enroute to a rotation total of 49.350. The Wolfpack turned in a vault score of 49.0 in their first rotation, and Georgia was off and running with a lead.
The teams switched apparatuses in the second rotation, with Danna's Dawgs heading to their strongest event over the course of the season, the vault. Cat Hired carded an impressive 9.925, and 9.9's were turned in by Lindsey Cheek and Brandie Jay as the Gym Dogs marched to an impressive 49.40. NC State entered a 49.10 on bars, and at halftime, the Gym Dogs held a lead of 98.750-98.100.
And now, it gets really good. The Dawgs took to the floor for the third rotation and absolutely cleaned house. Freshman Brandie Jay got a 10 from one judge and a 9.95 from the Soviet judge, turning in a 9.975 on her floor routine. Freshman Mary Beth Box performed in literally her first floor routine of the year, coming out of nowhere to card a 9.90; a very strong statement in her first competitive routine in college. The Dawgs didn't have to count a score lower than 9.825 enroute to a floor score of 49.425, their highest-scoring floor rotation of the year. NC State turned in a 48.775 on beam, and after 3 rotations, the Gym Dogs led 148.175-146.875.
With the victory all but signed, sealed, and delivered, Danna's Dawgs had nothing left to do on beam but go for the throat like true competitors. And go for the throat they did. Senior Noel Couch returned from injury to card a 9.90, but senior Shayla Worley and junior Kaylan Earls led the scoring with 9.95's for each. Lindsey Cheek scored a 9.925, and Sarah Persinger scored a 9.90. If you're counting along at home, that's five scores of 9.90 or better. The Gym Dogs did not count a score on beam lower than 9.90! Danna's Dawgs absolutely crushed the final rotation to put up a season-high on beam of 49.625. After that, it didn't really matter what NC State turned in on floor (49.125, for the record).
When the dust had settled, Danna's Dawgs stood victoriously atop the heap, looking for all the world like a national championship contender peaking at exactly the right time. Georgia's final score of 197.800 is their highest score of the season, and it's the second-highest score posted by any team on the road in any NCAA-sanctioned meet this year. In a startling reversal of fortunes, the beam was their best event on the night, followed by the floor.
Gym Dogs head coach Danna Durante certainly appreciated the magnitude of this success:
This was huge for our confidence. We surpassed our goal today, and I'm really proud of them. It was an incredible team effort.
I've been saying that beam could be our strongest event, and we saw today what they do in practice every day. It's just how they train. Sarah Persinger found her rhythm to start us off, and I'm super proud of all of them. I can't say enough about them; they did an amazing job.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: ultimately this year, our goal is to make the Super Six. We're still technically in a "rebuilding" year after the Jay Clark era. If we can sustain this form, we'll achieve that goal. If our seniors and freshmen can keep coming up this big, however, when the lights are shining brightest, we might just have a chance to accomplish something even more special.
Now is when the scores really start counting the most, however. The Gym Dogs' next meet is this coming Saturday, March 23, at the SEC Championship in North Little Rock, Arkansas. After that, we have done enough to build our RQS to ensure a #1 seed at whichever NCAA regional into which we're drawn. That's very good from a qualification standpoint, since it means we won't be drawn against any other of the top 6 teams in the country.
Tonight, though, let's simply revel in this magnificent performance by our gymnastics team. We came, we saw, we brought the house down. That's enough for tonight!
Edit: Oh, and freshman Brittany Rogers won the individual all-around for the 3rd time in 4 meets. You know. No big deal. (It's a big deal.)