The University of Georgia Gym Dogs are, once again, back in the place where they belong: the Super Six. After missing out on the final session of the NCAA gymnastics season for 3 years following the retirement of Suzanne Yoculan, the Dawgs have now made the Super Six for the second consecutive year under second-year head coach Danna Durante.
The Gym Dogs competed in the first semifinal session yesterday afternoon at the NCAA Championships in Birmingham, Alabama, and were going up against Oklahoma, LSU, Michigan, Stanford, and Illinois. Through the luck of the draw, the Dawgs started out on their normal first apparatus, the vault. Brandie Jay led the way with a 9.95, and Lindsey Cheek once again put in a solid 9.90 as the team scored a 49.350 to start the day.
During the second rotation, Georgia had a bye, then we went to bars for the third rotation. Georgia has been the #1-ranked bars team all year long, but we had an uncharacteristically down day at that station. Our stalwart Lindsey Cheek carded a 9.925, but she was the only gymnast to score a 9.90 or better. If you'll recall, we've had several meets recently where we didn't have to count any bars score lower than 9.90, and that mega-high bars score has lifted us up and allowed us to push through terrible scores on beam and/or floor. On this afternoon, though, we only managed a 49.300 on the bars, and we managed to make Vineyarddawg extremely nervous from that point on.
On the fourth rotation, Danna's Dawgs moved to beam, no doubt knowing that their subpar (for them) bars score would require them to step up on the final two apparatuses. And this is what I love about them: they delivered. Lindsey Cheek (once again) delivered a 9.90, as did Sophomore Mary Beth Box, and we didn't have to count a score lower than 9.80 enroute to a team beam score of 49.20.
The Dawgs had another bye going into the fifth rotation, and ended the meet on floor. Going into that final rotation, we knew that regardless of what Oklahoma and LSU did (we were behind them at that time), we had to beat Stanford and Michigan on our final apparatus. Well, the key measure of a gymnastics team is how they perform when the pressure is the highest and the lights are shining brightest, and that final rotation was the highest-pressure situation we've faced all season to this point. And these ladies delivered. Brandie Jay busted out with a 9.925, and 9.90's were carded by Cat Hires and Mary Beth Box. The lowest score we had to count was a 9.85 as the ladies matched their highest floor score of the entire season with a 49.450.
When the smoke cleared, the Georgia Gym Dogs were standing in second position, still behind #2-ranked Oklahoma, but having passed #3 LSU on the final rotation. All three teams advanced to the Super Six. In the evening semifinal, the Super Six qualifiers were top-ranked Florida, #4 Alabama, and #9 Nebraska. (Surprisingly, 5th-ranked Utah had an uncharacteristically poor meet and Nebraska had a great performance to jump in ahead of them.)
Coach Danna Durante had the following to say about her team's performance on Friday:
We are so thrilled to be advancing. I think one thing that was a little different for us is that we were incredibly tight two weeks ago and today was little better for us. We've worked in the gym and I was so proud of them to come out, do well on vault, rally on beam, and really be aggressive and finish strong on floor. It was the second time to score a 49.45 on floor this year and we still did leave some things out there. I'm incredibly proud of this team and their fight all year. There have been moments of brilliance and moments of knowing we need to be better. We're excited to get back to the hotel, rest a little bit and come back [Saturday].
Right on, coach. Right on. And we'll be here supporting y'all, too!
All-American honors are awarded based on performances in the semifinals, and 7 Gym Dogs earned All-American status across 9 events on the day. (The top 4 finishers on each apparatus are first-team All Americans and the 5-8 slots are second-teamers.) The first-team All-American Gym Dogs are Brandie Jay (vault, floor), Lindsey Cheek (vault, bars, beam), and Mary Beth Box (beam). Our second-team All-Americans are Chelsea Davis (bars), Cat Hires (floor) and Mary Beth Box (floor). This is Lindsey Cheek's fourth straight year as an All-American on vault, which is a first for a Gym Dog. Congratulations to Lindsey!!
Danna's Dawgs have made a great start at nationals, and now they advance to the final meet of the year, and the most important: the Super Six. Last year, we (as fans) were happy just to be there, but this year we want to see a little more from these ladies, and I believe they're capable of delivering on that expectation. Based strictly on rankings, you'd expect the Dawgs to finish 5th, but we've already beaten LSU twice out of the 3 times we've faced them this year, so there's no reason to think we can't outscore them once again. To be fair, it'll take our best meet of the year to beat Oklahoma or Florida... but that's why they play the games, isn't it?
UPDATE: The rotations for tonight's Super Six have been set, and we've once again gotten a lucky draw, i think.
The Dawgs start on beam and floor instead of vault, but to me the sequencing among teams matters just as much as the apparatuses themselves, specifically as it relates to Alabama. The Tide are hosting this event in Birmingham, and most of the crowd there will be loud, raucous, and hostile-to-Georgia Bama partisans. We get to start on beam when Alabama has a bye, and we'll be on a bye when Alabama is getting their loudest cheers on the floor. I think that's a good thing for us. Dang it, this is messing with my Munsonian pessimism.