First, Jay Clark did the unthinkable by losing at Auburn. Then, Jay Clark did the unthinkable by losing in the NCAA Regionals. Then, Jay Clark did the unthinkable by saying, essentially, when we get into the red zone, we’re going to take a knee and kick a field goal. Tonight, Jay Clark embarrassed the University of Georgia women’s gymnastics program yet again by guiding his fifth-ranked Gym Dogs to a fifth-place finish in the NCAA preliminary session.
The Red and Black’s best performance was on the vault, where Cat Hires’s 9.875, Noel Couch’s and Chelsea Davis’s 9.9s, Lindsey Cheek’s 9.95, and Kat Ding’s 9.975 combined to earn Georgia an overall 49.6 mark. This bettered the scores posted on that apparatus by Florida (49.575), Alabama (49.4), Arkansas (49.275), Ohio State (49.175), and Oregon State (49.05).
The Gym Dogs notched their second-best tally on the bars, cobbling together a 49.4 on the strength of Gina Nuccio’s 9.9, Davis’s 9.925, and Ding’s 9.95. The Athenians tied the Crimson Tide in that event, and were trailed by the Razorbacks (49.275), the Beavers (49.15), and the Buckeyes (48.975). However, the Gators edged the Classic City Canines with a 49.45.
Georgia managed a respectable, but far less than dominant, 49.225 in the floor exercise, where no Athenian gymnast received higher than a 9.875 score. That cumulative figure still outpaced the floor marks of Arkansas (49.15), Ohio State (49.15), and Oregon State (48.975), but it failed to match those of Alabama (49.275) and Florida (49.275).
Where disaster struck, though, was on the beam. There, Sarah Persinger’s 9.175 forced the team to count Couch’s 9.25 and Kaylan Earls’s 9.35. The end result was a calamitous 48.275, which an elite team simply cannot afford on the biggest stage. The Gym Dogs finished behind the Tide (49.6), the Razorbacks (49.45), the Gators (49.35), the Beavers (49.3), and the Buckeyes (49.225).
In the end, Alabama won the session with a 197.675 score, Florida was the runner-up at 197.65, Arkansas was the last to advance to the Super Six with a 197.15, and lovely parting gifts went to Ohio State (196.525), Georgia (196.5), and Oregon State (196.475). The Gym Dogs weren’t even the third-best SEC team in Friday’s evening session; in fact, the Red and Black avoided a last-place finish by a mere .025. On Suzanne Yoculan’s watch, Georgia boasted quite simply the best program in the sport, period. Now, ours is a timid and inconsistent gymnastics program that fades on the grand stage, and has been lapped not just by perennial powerhouses like the one in Tuscaloosa, but also by Jenny-come-lately parvenus like those in Gainesville and (for crying out loud!) Fayetteville.
I used to think the gap between Suzanne Yoculan and Jay Clark was the gap between Bear Bryant and Ray Goff, but it isn’t; it’s the gap between John Wooden and Johnny Griffith. The proudest program in women’s gymnastics collapsed the instant Suzanne Yoculan went from being the coach on the sideline to being the name on the facility, because Jay Clark is not man enough to fill her high-heeled shoes.
The University of Georgia deserves better, and, damn it, we must demand better. Jay Clark must go. Now. Right now. Before the sun rises over the Classic City on Monday morning, Greg McGarity needs officially to be in the market for a new gymnastics coach.