Danna's Dawgs had high hopes going into Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa, the home of our biggest gymnastics rival, the Alabama Crimson Tide. We were ranked higher than the Tide coming into this meet for the first time since the Suzanne Yoculan days, and were entertaining notions of upsetting one of the few teams we really, honestly, don't like on their home floor.
The meet started out well for the Classic City Canines, who had the uneven bars in their first rotation (in which they currently rank #1 in the country). Freshman Kiera Brown busted out with a 9.925, and 9.90's were also carded by Brittany Rogers and Chelsea Davis. We had a typical strong set of routines, and didn't have to count a score lower than 9.825 enroute to a rotation score of 49.400. Alabama carded an opening salvo of 49.300 on vault, and the Dawgs had an opening lead with which to work.
The Gym Dogs took to the vault in the second rotation, and Brandie Jay led the way with a 9.90. Though Jay had the only 9.9+ score, It was another strong rotation overall with the Dawgs not counting a score below 9.825 enroute to a 49.300 rotation total. Alabama carded a 49.350 on their bars rotation.
At "halftime," Georgia had a 98.700 - 98.650 lead over the Crimson Tide, and we all eagerly awaited the final two rotations to see if the Dawgs could hold onto the narrow lead.
As the visiting team, the Gym Dogs took to the floor in the third rotation, and continued to improve on their season average. No gymnast scored a 9.9 or better on floor, but most of the scores were in the 9.85+ range as Georgia tallied 49.225 as a team. Fortunately, Alabama did no better on beam, carding an identical 49.225, which meant that heading into the final rotation, Georgia once again had a chance to win on the road as long as they could protect a slim .050 lead.
Unfortunately, the gremlins that have dogged our beam routines so frequently on the road once again reared their heads on this night. Ashlyn Broussard and Sarah Persinger both fell during their routines, which meant that one of those scores was going to have to count for the Dawgs. (For the record, Persinger's 9.30 was the one that ended up on the final tally.) Lindsey Cheek rebounded very strongly with a 9.925 and Kaylan Earls topped all of the night's beam competitors with a 9.95, but the damage had been done. Georgia wound up with a 48.900 fourth rotation, and Alabama pounded out a 49.625 on floor to take the meet.
When asked to comment on the night's results, head coach Danna Durante had this to say:
We need to figure out how to close the deal. We are a group of fighters, and we aren't fighting hard enough. I like the energy on the first three events, and floor continues to get better and better. We have an amazing team with great athletes, and we need to be able to compete with four strong events.
This meet represents the third time in the 2014 season when an opposing team has set their season-high mark against the Bulldogs. Oklahoma scored a 197.700 in the season opener, Florida scored a 198.050 against us, and now Alabama has bested their previous season-high mark by .350. Clearly, teams know that when they play against the Georgia Bulldogs, they have to bring their best. We just have to figure out how to bring our best, too, when competing against a hostile crowd.
I agree with Coach Durante that the potential is there for greatness. The pieces are starting to come together. If we can get that beam rotation together (and probably continue to improve on floor), we could realistically shoot for a top-3 finish at the NCAA's by the end of the season if we continue to fight and get better. As I've said many times already this season... the nucleus is there. We just have to fight hard and bring it all together.
The next meet for the Gym Dogs is at home this Friday, February 14, in Stegeman Colisum against unranked SEC foe Missouri. This meet will be the annual "pink out" for breast cancer awareness, so keep that in mind if you plan to be there!