Just four days after registering an impressive win over Utah, the fourth-ranked Gym Dogs hosted ninth-ranked archrival Alabama in Stegeman Coliseum for the first home conference meet of the young season. In spite of a few miscues, the Red and Black continued to perform at an exceptionally high level to claim victory by a 197.175-196.275 margin.
Georgia began the first rotation on the vault, where a couple of backward steps by Tiffany Tolnay on her landing earned her a 9.675, forcing the Red and Black to count both of the 9.75s carded by Hilary Mauro and Lauren Sessler. Courtney Kupets’s 9.875 and Cassidy McComb’s 9.8 only succeeded in boosting the team’s tally to 48.975, enabling the Crimson Tide to take an early lead after Alabama posted a 49.275 on the uneven bars.
The Bulldogs bounced back once it was their turn on the bars. Marcia Newby, Gina Nuccio, and Grace Taylor all notched 9.875s and Tolnay followed that up with a 9.9. Not to be outdone, Kupets closed out the second rotation for the Red and Black by posting a perfect 10.0. This gave the home team the 49.525 score that outpaced the Crimson Tide’s 49.075 in the vault and put Georgia in the lead by a 98.5-98.35 margin at the halfway point.
The third frame saw the Gym Dogs on the balance beam, where a step on her landing dropped Paige Burns to a 9.725. Her teammates were able to make up for this, however, by putting up such marks as 9.825 (Mauro and McComb), 9.85 (Tolnay), 9.975 (Taylor), and---incredibly---a second consecutive 10.0 by Kupets to boost the Bulldogs’ score for the rotation to 49.475. Four scores of 9.75 or below caused ‘Bama to card an overall 48.675 in the floor exercise and allow the Red and Black to extend their advantage to 147.975-147.025.
The Crimson Tide refused to go away in the final stanza, opening Alabama’s turn on the beam with a 9.825 from Brittany Magee and following that up with a 9.8 put up by Caitlin Sullivan, a 9.875 carded by Ricki Lebegern, and a 9.9 notched by Geralen Stack-Eaton while the Bulldogs struggled, thanks to a 9.275 by McComb (who put her hands down on the landing in the floor exercise) and a 9.675 by Mauro (who stepped out of bounds on the double Arabian).
Fortunately, Abby Stack opened Georgia’s turn on the floor with a 9.8 and Taylor earned a 9.875 between the two low scores to open the door for Kupets’s 9.95 to outpace Ashley Priess’s 9.8 on the beam. Morgan Dennis closed out the scoring for the visitors with a 9.85 to boost the ‘Bama total to 49.25 for the rotation and 196.275 for the meet. However, Tolnay’s 9.9 on the Gym Dogs’ concluding performance earned the home team the 49.2 that gave them the 197.175 that clinched the victory.
Courtney Kupets not only won the all-around crown yet again, she posted a career-best 39.825 in the process. If you don’t follow college gymnastics the way you should, you may not fully appreciate the intensity of the rivalry between what historically have been the league’s top two programs. 4-0 is all well and good, but getting there by beating the Utes and the Crimson Tide is about as good as it gets.
Before tangling with the fourth and final elite gymnastics program, U.C.L.A., in Los Angeles on March 8, the Red and Black will run up against N.C. State in Raleigh next Friday night.