In front of a sold-out crowd of 10,224 Georgia partisans at Stegeman Coliseum, Danna Durante's Georgia Bulldogs took the floor to start their 2015 season... and they did so by promptly planting their faces squarely onto the concrete floor of the building (proverbially speaking).
It's barely even worth summarizing the various rotations and scores. That's how badly it went for Danna's Dawgs. (To be fair, I was fuming half the time because the announcers, one of which was former Gym Dog Cat Hires, were acting like everything was just fine during the entire meet. They even called UGA's first-rotation score of 49.000 a "solid start." A rotation score of 49 flat hasn't been a "solid start" for Georgia in 30 years. ) For the sake of thoroughness, though, I'll quickly touch on the action.
The Gym Dogs started on vault, and senior Sarah Persinger opened the action with a disappointing 9.80 after she couldn't contain her landing. In fact, the only "stuck landing" of the night on vault came from junior Brandie Jay, who carded a very impressive 9.925. Unfortunately, it was both the first and the last 9.9+ score that the home team would see all night. Freshman Natalie Vaculik had the second-highest vault score with a 9.825, and the team as a whole turned in a very disappointing 49.000 on their first rotation. Michigan, competing on bars, had a fall but was able to drop that score enroute to a 49.025, for a 0.025-point lead after one rotation.
The Dawgs and the Wolverines swapped apparatuses for the second rotation, and the ladies put in a very serviceable set of routines, though none were good enough to score a 9.9 or higher. Senior Chelsea Davis and sophomore Kiera Brown had the highest bars marks, with 9.875's for each of them, as the home team carded a 49.125 for the second rotation. Michigan was on vault, and managed far more stuck landings that UGA did, as they carded a 49.325 on vault, for a "halftime" lead of 98.350 - 98.125.
We were surprisingly behind at the halfway point, but there was still plenty of time and room to come back. Unfortunately, it all fell apart in the second half of the meet. UGA was on beam for the third rotation, and we had to count a near-fall by Kiera Brown (or it might have been a botched dismount... I can't quite remember) enroute to a rotation score of 48.925. Michigan carded a 49.150 in their third rotation on floor, and had a prohibitive 147.500 - 147.050 lead going into the final rotation.
As long as the Wolverines didn't have to count a fall on the balance beam in the final rotation, they were assured of winning the meet. As it turns out, it was Georgia who had to count a fall on the floor exercise, since both Mary Beth Box and Ashlyn Broussard both had botched tumbling passes in their floor routines. The Dawgs carded a horrifying 48.550 in their final rotation as Michigan tallied a 49.100 on the beam to result in the final result of the match: a 196.600 - 195.600 Wolverine victory.
To say, "This is not the start we wanted to the season," would be kind of like saying, "Well, the football team played a little worse than we expected in Jacksonville this year." This is an especially horrible score and loss. The Gym Dogs haven't tallied a final score this low since Coach Durante's first meet as head coach in 2012. For reference purposes, at a minimum, we generally want to get at least 49.100 or better even on our worst rotation, and we need significantly better than that on some. We only beat that mark in one rotation tonight, and only barely, with a 49.125 on bars.
In 2014, Georgia was the best team on bars in the country. Our lowest bars score all season was a 49.250, and that was in our first meet of the year. To sink this far this fast is a shambolic disaster, and that's even before you get to the other three apparatuses where we were really terrible. Other than Brandie Jay's truly impressive 9.925 on vault, the only bright spot was the performance of the two Canadian freshmen, Natalie Vaculik and Vivi Babalis. Vaculik had the second-highest vault score of the night, a 9.825, and Babalis tied for the best beam score with a 9.85, both in their first meet as Gym Dogs. I was encouraged by their performances, and hopefully they can continue to be consistent contributors at those levels for the Dawgs.
Make no mistake, however... this meet was an unmitigated disaster. To have a capacity crowd show up for your season opener and lay an egg this massive is shameful. It might sound a little harsh to say so... but it's simply the truth. We expect the Gym Dogs to be among the best teams in the country, and this display was far, far short of that mark. But the season isn't over after one meet, and even terrible scores like these can be lifted up over the course of the entire season if you get back on your feet and come back with a vengeance next week.
And I give Coach Durante credit for not making excuses or running from the truth on this matter. In her post-meet remarks, she said the following:
We absolutely have a lot of work to do. The thing about this team is that they are not afraid to work hard. We're going to make some big strides pretty quickly this week. We have to be tougher. We can't be tentative or timid. We have to come out and fight.
Senior Sarah Persinger, who returned to full action following an injury that kept her out for most of 2014, also sounded determined to improve rapidly:
I think we're going to take a lot out of tonight, learn from our mistakes, keep improving, remember the things that we did well and build on that. Really it can only go up from here.
Let's hope you're right, Sarah. For all our sakes, I hope you are. Danna's Dawgs return to action this Friday with another home meet against the Missouri Tigers. The meet starts at 7:00 PM, and will be televised live on SEC Network+. (That means that it will be streamed live online at WatchESPN.com. If you get the SEC Network as part of your TV package, you should be able to go to WatchESPN.com and access any SEC Network+ digital content.)