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Gym Dogs Win S.E.C. Gymnastics Championship

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The Gym Dogs declared a blackout for Saturday afternoon's S.E.C. championship meet, in which Suzanne Yoculan's squad was aiming for its 16th conference crown.

The Red and Black drew the floor exercise to start the competition, where Georgia's cumulative tally of 49.325 established the high mark of the first rotation, outpacing the scores posted by Auburn (49.0 on the balance beam), L.S.U. (48.975 on the uneven parallel bars), and Arkansas (48.625 in the vault) on the strength of a 9.9 by Courtney McCool and a 9.925 by S.E.C. gymnast of the week Katie Heenan.

The Bulldog gymnasts were among the three teams to draw a bye in the second rotation, which Florida led with a 49.375 on the floor. Trailing the Gators were Alabama (49.125 on the bars), L.S.U. (48.9 on the beam), and Kentucky (48.525 on the vault). Heenan earned a 9.95 on the vault in the third rotation, which, when coupled with Tiffany Tolnay's 9.9, gave Georgia a 49.225 score. This surpassed Arkansas's 47.95 on the bars and Auburn's 49.025 on the floor, but the high score of the round went to Alabama, as three Crimson Tide competitors received 9.9s to pace a 49.35 effort on the beam.

Auburn's Julie Dwyer earned an all-around score of 39.425. (Insert your "Clerks" joke here.)

The Red and Black received another breather in the fourth rotation, which saw Florida yet again going about its business in methodical fashion, putting up consistently solid scores led by Ashley Reed's 9.95 en route to a 49.375 total on the vault that surpassed Louisiana State's 49.275 on the floor, Arkansas's 49.025 on the beam, and Kentucky's 48.5 on the bars. This gave the Gators a 98.75-98.55 lead over their rivals from Athens.

The Gym Dogs were on the bars during the fifth rotation, in which they began to look a bit more like a championship team. The Red and Black posted 9.85s from Heenan and Cassidy McComb, a 9.9 from McCool, and 9.95s from Tolnay and Grace Taylor to earn a 49.5 score in the event. This tally exceeded those of Alabama (49.4 on the floor), Auburn (49.025 in the vault), and Kentucky (48.85 on the beam) and gave Georgia a meet-leading overall mark of 148.05 . . . although the Gators, with three byes in the first five rounds, continued to own high marks in the two events in which they had competed.

The sixth rotation marked the first of the meet in which both the Red and Black and the Orange and Blue were competing in the same round: Georgia drew the beam and Florida found itself on the bars. Despite a 9.175 from Reed, the Gators garnered a 49.4 overall tally to edge the 49.3 earned by the Gym Dogs on the strength of Taylor's 9.9 mark. To add insult to injury, L.S.U. outpaced Coach Yoculan's squad, as well, posting a 49.35 on the vault. Arkansas brought up the rear with a 49.05 on the floor.

Florida's Corey Hartung earned an all-around score of 39.425. (Insert your "Sunglasses at Night" joke here.)

All the Gym Dogs could do during the final rotation was watch. Georgia's cumulative final score of 197.35 gave the Red and Black an advantage over the other two teams to have finished their competitions, Louisiana State (196.5) and Arkansas (194.65), but Coach Yoculan's charges led by only 49.2 a Saurian squad of such consistency that it had posted scores between 49.375 and 49.4 in all three of the events it had completed.

It was, as they say, not looking good for the home team. In the seventh rotation, however, Florida finally stumbled on the beam. The Gators' scores were respectable, but not stellar: two U.F. gymnasts put up marks of 9.8, another 9.825, still another 9.85, but only Corey Hartung managed a 9.9, so the Orange and Blue fell short with a 49.175 tally. This gave the Gators the edge over Auburn (49.05 on the bars) and Kentucky (48.15 on the floor), but Alabama put up three marks of 9.925 or better to post a 49.45 on the vault.

When all was said and done, the result was a last-place finish for the Wildcats, whose 194.025 put them behind even the Razorbacks (194.65). Auburn managed a 196.1 but could not keep pace with the other set of Tigers, as Louisiana State received a 196.5 mark. Alabama and Florida tied for second place with identical 197.325 scores, which left Georgia out in front with the 197.35 that earned the Gym Dogs the championship.

It is hard to claim that the Gators choked when they earned a mark high enough to earn the victory in most instances; indeed, Florida won last year's S.E.C. crown with an identical 197.325 score. The Red and Black closed the deal when it mattered most, and Georgia did so without the services of the injured Courtney Kupets. The Gym Dogs once again look like the team to beat in the chase for the national title, but, whatever fate awaits them, they once again are the Southeastern Conference champions.

Go 'Dawgs!