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Gym Dogs Repeat as National Champions

A man's obsession with his favorite collegiate athletics program can manifest itself in many ways.

He might feel moved to chronicle all the crazy things fans do.  He might fear alien abduction and interplanetary enslavement primarily because they might keep him from attending the Vanderbilt game.  

In my case, it might cause him to stay up until the wee hours of the morning for the second night in a row, after having already followed an extra-inning baseball game batter by batter, constantly hitting the "refresh" button on the N.C.A.A. website in order to get up-to-the-minute scores on the National Women's Gymnastics Championships while frantically punching numerals into a calculator to figure what this team or that team will have to do in order to overcome this or that deficit.  

I have written repeatedly that this year's Gym Dogs were in a position to do something truly remarkable, but it all came down to Friday night and the experience was more than a little nerve-wracking, to say the very least.  

The "Super Six" field against which the Red and Black were competing in the N.C.A.A. Finals included some heavy-duty women's gymnastics teams, such as perennial S.E.C. rival Alabama and perennial national rival Utah.  Georgia faced a tough challenge and the Bulldogs appeared to be on somewhat shaky ground in the early going.  

The Gym Dogs managed only a 49.2 score on the balance beam, which trailed the 49.325 posted by Utah.  Nevertheless, three competitors wearing red and black finished no worse than sixth place on the beam, including Courtney Kupets (whose 9.95 tied for first place) and Katie Heenan (whose 9.9 tied for third place).  

Georgia performed somewhat more solidly in the floor exercise, where the 49.425 total earned by Suzanne Yoculan's squad was good enough for a first-place finish in the event, although Alabama (49.375) was not far behind.  Kelsey Ericksen (9.95), Courtney Kupets (9.925), and Ashley Kupets (9.9) finished tied for first, third, and sixth place, respectively, in the event.  

On the uneven parallel bars, Kelsey Ericksen (9.95), Katie Heenan (9.925), and Courtney Kupets (9.9) posted the top three scores in the meet, giving the Bulldogs a first-place 49.475 score . . . although, once again, David and Sarah Patterson's Alabama gymnasts were hot on Georgia's heels with a 49.3 mark.  

The Red and Black finished their rotation on the vault.  Here is where matters might get a bit dicey.  Both Alabama and Utah had finished the vault already, earning scores of 49.4 and 49.35, respectively.  In Thursday evening's prelim session, it had been in the vault that the Gym Dogs had faltered, limping to a 49.15 total.  

With the national championship on the line, Courtney Kupets (9.975), Kelsey Ericksen (9.95), and Tiffany Tolnay (9.95) all equaled or surpassed the high marks set by opposing gymnasts and led Georgia to a clinching 49.65 score in the event that had been the Gym Dogs' weakest 24 hours earlier.  

Fifth-place Nebraska posted a respectable 196.175, trailing fourth-place Florida (196.275).  Despite scoring an impressive 196.725, Alabama took the bronze medal and finished behind Utah (196.8).  

The unbeaten, untied, undisputed, and undenied repeating national champion Georgia Bulldogs once again broke the 197 barrier and finished the night with a 197.75 final score.  The Gym Dogs finished .95 points ahead of the second-place Utes . . . who finished .625 points ahead of the fifth-place Cornhuskers.  

The Red and Black went undefeated through a regular season, conference tournament, and N.C.A.A. Championship schedule that included every other highly ranked gymnastics squad in the country.  No one can be heard to complain that Georgia missed having to face a particular tough competitor . . . the Gym Dogs faced, and triumphed over, them all.  

This win confirms that Suzanne Yoculan has built what is now the premiere women's gymnastics program in the country.  This unblemished campaign against the toughest competition the N.C.A.A. has to offer provides ample support for the argument that the 2006 Georgia gymnastics squad is what E.S.P.N. wrongly (and quite prematurely) credited the 2005 Southern California football team with being:  not just the best this year, but the best ever.  

My congratulations and my thanks go out to Coach Yoculan and the Gym Dogs on this extraordinary achievement.  

Go 'Dawgs!