Danna's Dawgs came into the SEC Gymnastics Championship meet ranked as the 4th-best team in the conference and riding high off of a recent run of excellent performances. And, honestly, they did perform very well on the night, but had just too many small errors to win the SEC Championship.
And make no mistake, winning the SEC championship is just as difficult as winning the national championship. The SEC has 4 of the top 6 gymnastics programs in the country, according to the current rankings. This is a meet that is just as elite in terms of competition as any you'll see all year. We definitely had our work cut out for us going in.
The Gym Dogs started the night on our old nemesis, the balance beam. In a twist of irony, beam has actually been one of our strongest apparatuses over the last few weeks, and tonight it turned out that way, as well. Freshman Brittany Rogers and Senior Shayla Worley came out and brought it with a 9.95, and Lindsey Cheek scored a career-high 9.925. Georgia turned in a 49.50 on the beam, which was good for second place behind LSU.
Our second rotation was on floor, and we turned in a solid effort. Brandie Jay and Sarah Persinger carded 9.9's, and we didn't have to count a score lower than 9.825 enroute to a 49.350. Unfortunately, that's just an "ok" score, not a fantastic score, at a meet like this, and we slid to 3rd place at "halftime," leading only Alabama.
We had reason to hope going into our third rotation on vault, since vault has been our strongest apparatus all year. Unfortunately, it failed us tonight. Lindsey Cheek earned a 9.90, but no other Gym Dog scored higher than 9.85, and we also had to count a 9.80 effort from Noel Couch. We ended up with only 49.225 for the rotation. Again, not a horrible score, but against elite teams, it's just not going to be enough. This is where we lost all chance to finish better than 4th.
After the troubled third rotation, we needed a strong bars rotation just to avoid sinking lower than 4th overall. (The scores from both afternoon and evening sessions are combined to come up with the overall standings.) Fortunately, we fought back hard and had a great rotation. Lindsey Cheek made us all gasp by coming out of the gate with a 9.60, but that was wiped out after scores of 9.95 by Brittany Rogers, 9.925 by Shayla Worley and Chelsea Davis, 9.90 by Brandie Jay, and a 9.85 by Christa Tanella. Our final rotation score was 49.550, our highest of the night.
Unfortunately, when you give elite teams an inch, they rarely return the favor, and our great bars score only solified our fourth-place finish. The final standings in the SEC Gymnastics championship meet were as follows:
Florida - 198.000
Alabama - 197.900
LSU - 197.700
Georgia - 197.625
Auburn - 196.550
Arkansas - 196.400
Missouri - 195.525
Kentucky - 194.600
I'd personally like to congratulate the Florida Gators on their SEC gymnastics championship. Why am I being so gracious to the Sunshine State Saurians, you ask? Well, Florida has won the SEC gymnastics championship 8 previous times. Of those 8 championships, exactly zero have been followed by a national championship, and two of them were followed by national championships for the University of Georgia. So, you see, my motives are not entirely altruistic.
So what does this mean for the Gym Dogs? Well, I think it means we're right on track for where we want to be at the end of the season. Let's be honest, we're probably not going to win the national championship, though that is always the goal. Our season-best of 197.800 last week wouldn't have won the SEC Championship, let alone the national championship. This has always been a "rebuilding the program" year for Georgia in year 1 of Coach Danna Durante's reign, and so far, it's been a successful one. We're back in the top 6 of the national rankings, and we have a legitimate expectation of making the Super Six, which we've only ever missed under Jay Clark's tenure.
A score of 197.625 is a great showing, and if we can keep performing at this level, we should be able to meet our goal of making the the NCAA finals (the Super Six). Anything more than that is gravy from a fan's standpoint.
The next step for the Gym Dogs is a berth at one of the six NCAA regionals. Since we had a great score tonight, we should expect to still be ranked no worse than #6 nationally when the final set of rankings come out, which means that we'll be the #1 seed in one of the regionals. This is important, because it means we won't be drawn against any of the 5 teams ahead of us in a meet where only the top two teams advance.
The NCAA regional sites this year are: Tuscaloosa, AL, Gainesville, FL, Norman, OK, Corvallis, OR, Columbus, OH, and Morgantown, WV. I'll assume that Alabama, Florida, Oklahoma are #1's in their home gym. Depending on whether we're ranked #5 or #6, it's likely we'll either be in Morgantown, WV, or Corevallis, OR.
Michigan will probably go to Columbus, OH, as the #1 seed, and Oregon State (currently ranked 10th) will undoubtedly be drawn into their home gym as the #2 seed in the region, so it stands to reason that the lowest-ranked 1 seed will go against them. Since LSU outscored us tonight, it's a good bet that we'll be headed out west and LSU will be going to West Virginny. We'll just have to see how it shakes out, though.
Good job tonight, Gym Dogs! Keep fighting hard, keep improving, and we'll see y'all at the NCAA regionals!