On Saturday afternoon, the 5th-ranked Georgia Bulldogs took to the home mat for the last time in the 2014 regular season against the 20th-ranked Denver Pioneers, and as is tradition for such occasions, it was Senior Day. The Gym Dogs only have 3 seniors this year, but all of them have turned out to be the bedrock of the events in which they've competed. (A credit both to the gymnasts themselves and to Coach Durante and her staff for helping them to become part of a squad that is once again elite.)
Congratulations to Cat Hires, Kaylan Earls, and Lindsey Cheek on 4 great years as (Damn Good) Gym Dogs! Photo Credit:UGA Sports Communications
One of the things I've found encouraging about this team all year is that, in general, they continue to improve from meet to meet, and for the first half of our home finale, that trend continued.
As is customary for home meets, we started on vault. And whoa, nellie, was it ever a great start. Brandie Jay carded a 9.975, and Brittany Rogers and Cat Hires both scored 9.925's. Lindsey Cheek and Chelsea Davis both added 9.90's, and the Dawgs didn't have to count any score lower than a 9.90 enroute to our highest vault score of the year: a 49.625. Oh, wait, did I say "our" highest vault score of the year? Well, that's technically true, too, but the 49.625 was also good enough to tie the Utah Red Rocks for the highest vault score of any team in the country. The Pioneers put up a 48.925 on uneven bars for their first rotation.
For the second rotation, the Gym Dogs continued to show why they're the #1-ranked bars team in the nation. Lindsey Cheek continued her spectacular run of form with a 9.975, Cat Hires impressed with a 9.95, and Chelsea Davis and Brittany Rogers both scored 9.90's. The Dawgs finished with a second rotation score of 49.600, which was their second-highest score of the season. Denver put up a 49.000 on vault, and at "halftime," the Gym Dogs held a prohibitive 99.225(!!) - 97.925 lead. (Any score in the 99+ range after 2 rotations is enormously high.)
Unfortunately, we were going to need some of that lead we had banked during the first half. During the third rotation on balance beam, no gymnast scored 9.9 or higher, with the high mark being Kaylan Earls' 9.875. We did have a fall (by Cheek) that we were able to drop, but that necessitated counting a 9.725 that was carded by Kiera Brown. Overall, the Gym Dogs tallied a 49.075 third rotation. The Pioneers managed exactly the same score (49.075) on floor.
Going into the final rotation, Danna's Dawgs had a massive 1.3-point lead (148.300-147.000), so we just had to not screw up big-time to seal the win. A big floor rotation, though, would have been nice to help our position in the national rankings. Unfortunately, we did not get the latter, and very nearly saw the former come to pass.
As has been the custom this year, Kaylan Earls led the scoring on floor with a 9.90, which was matched by Brittany Rogers. Shockingly, however, we had two falls during the rotation, so we had to count one of them (Brandie Jay's 9.275). Overall, Georgia tallied a 48.725 for the final rotation, while Denver carded a 48.825 on beam. The final score, as mentioned previously, was 197.025-195.825.
With this meet, the Georgia Gym Dogs concluded an undefeated regular season at home, with a 2014 meet record of 6-0. That mark includes a victory over current #1 LSU, so it's not a small feat, but when I look at the bigger picture, I find significant areas of concern.
Our team has been pretty consistent on two apparatuses this year: vault and uneven bars. We are currently ranked #1 in the country on the bars and #7 on vault, though that vault ranking will go up after this week. (It's being pulled down by the one horrible day we had against Stanford in our second meet.) The other two apparatuses, though, have been points of maddening inconsistency for the Dawgs.
Balance beam was for years the bane of our existence (even under Coach Yoculan), but we've shown flashes of brilliance this season during that event. Unfortunately, we've also shown flashes of inconsistency, with multiple gymnasts falling or otherwise carding very low scores in 3 meets (that's almost 1/3 of the season). To be fair, we're still ranked 5th nationally on beam, so we're not the only ones with trouble keeping our balance, but it's not the teams below us that are the problem; it's the 4 above us that we need to be trying to catch.
Surprisingly, the floor exercise has also been a point of inconsistency for us. The floor is usually thought of as the event where teams can pile up the points to shore up weaker rotations, and our national ranking of 9th in floor seems to play this out. It's not just the inconsistency, though, because we really don't frequently have a lot of falls on floor... we just don't score that highly to begin with. Our highest score of the year on floor is 49.350, which is 0.075 below the worst team ranked above us (on floor), and is worse than 7 teams ranked below us. With such stellar vault and bars numbers, we don't have to be world-beaters on the floor, but there's no question that our lack of high marks on the routine where everyone else flies sky-high is costing us in the rankings, and will probably cost us at the NCAA championships.
In terms of qualifying for the Super Six (i.e. making it out of regionals and making it past the first session of the NCAA finals), I consider it a necessity that we score a 49.2 or 49.3 on most rotations. If we go below that on one apparatus, we can pick that up with a higher score on another, generally... but any score below 49.0 is disaster for our qualifying campaign. You just can't pick up a 3-tenths deficit unless you have the best meet of the season in the other 3 events.
So, how have we done this season in keeping that pace? So far, we have never scored below a 49.2 on bars, and we've only scored less than 49.2 on vault twice (both times early in the season). On balance beam, however, we've only scored above a 49.2 twice all season, and we've made that "meet-killing" mistake of going below 49.0 three times... all 3 times on the road in meets we ultimately lost (Oklahoma, Florida, Alabama).
Our floor has been more disconcerting, because while we've only gone below the 49.2 mark 4 times this year, 3 of those 4 times, it's been a huge drop, taking us below the "meet-killing" 49.0 mark. And while we only lost 1 of those 3 meets (in the disastrous second meet at Stanford, in which we were poor all around), the most recent 2 "meet killing" scores have come recently; against Auburn two weeks ago and yesterday against Denver.
We were always going to beat Auburn and Denver, so our poor floor rotation was "hidden" in those meets by the stellar scores we carded on vault and bars. Our overall scores at Auburn and vs. Denver, though (196.875 and 197.025), might not even get us out of the NCAA regionals (which would be an unmitigated disaster).
So, what point do I take from this? Well, the bottom line is that this Gym Dogs team has some great potential... truly great potential. They can be, however, maddeningly inconsistent in 2 of the 4 events. I am extremely confident about our performance in the NCAA regionals, since we'll be performing at home in the Athens regional. When we get to the NCAA national meet in Birmingham, however, with a crowd that will be full of Alabama partisans (who will undoubtedly be roundly cheering against us)... we as fans might just have to hold our breath and hope that one disastrous beam or floor rotation doesn't end our season prematurely in the first session.
The Gym Dogs have one more meet left in the regular season, as they will be traveling out to compete against the Utah Red Rocks this Saturday at 9:00 PM in Salt Lake City. Of course, we'll all be cheering our ladies on with all we've got, but I'll also be hoping for some more consistency in the "second half" of the meet, which might portend well for the upcoming SEC and NCAA championships.