The 7th-ranked Georgia Gym Dogs came into tonight's SEC opener vs. (unranked) Missouri reeling from a startlingly subpar meet last week, and they showed definite improvement pretty much across the board. That "pretty much" part was the biggest problem, though, and that's what kept the team's overall score below the mark we'd normally like to see them reach.
On paper, we only improved over last week's horrible score by two-tenths. By the eyeball test, though, you could see we made major improvements and started to get the routines and landings tightened up. And speaking of tight, the judging tonight was rather tight on most apparatuses. And on top of that, there was quite a bit more disagreement between the two judges for each event than one usually sees. (The scores for each gymnast are actually an average of the two scores each judge gives them. So if judge 1 gives you a 9.9 and judge 2 gives you a 9.85, your score is a 9.875.)
But enough previewing: let's get to the action!
The Gym Dogs opened on vault and turned in a much better showing than last week. Brandie Jay had yet another phenomenal vault, scoring a 9.95, and though no other UGA gymnast scored better than 9.825, we also didn't have to count any score lower than 9.80, which is great. I saw a lot more stuck landings and a lot tighter execution, and that's exactly what we want to see as the season rolls on. Georgia's first rotation total was 49.200, and would be their best rotation of the night. Mizzou scored a 48.950 on bars in their first rotation.
On the second rotation, Danna's Dawgs moved to the uneven bars. Brittany Rogers competed on bars in the first meet, but she was not in the lineup at all tonight as she continues to recover from the injury she sustained late last season. We all hope Brittany can be back at full health soon! Senior Sarah Persinger competed in Rogers' spot, giving Sarah her third all-round competition in a meet in her collegiate career (and first since her freshman year). To be honest, Persi's routine kind of looked less polished than it could have been, as well. Her score was the lowest of the ones we had to count, with a 9.725.
Unfortunately, one of our stalwarts on bars, Brandie Jay, had a scary-looking fall, though thankfully she wasn't injured. Chelsea Davis had a strong 9.90 in her routine, but Kiera Brown definitely had the best-looking routine of the night... right up until she took a huge step forward on her dismount. (You want a dismount to be "stuck" on the landing, which means your feet don't move at all.) One of the judges actually gave Brown a 9.90 even after her falter on the dismount, but the Soviet judge stepped in with a 9.70, which means that Brown's final score on bars was a 9.80. (A two-tenths difference in scores between judges is very unusual, by the way. Just crazy.) Overall, UGA carded a 48.975 on bars, on the backs of two sub-9.8 scores that we had to count (Persinger and Rachel Schick's 9.75). Mizzou tallied a 48.950 on vault in their second rotation.
The bars were this team's strength in 2014, and we really haven't started well in 2015 on this event. Of our 6 competitors on bars, 4 of them were veterans, and only Chelsea Davis and Kiera Brown have been consistently good in the first two meets. We needed sophomore Rachel Schick (who didn't compete at all last year) to come in and be a strong competitor for us on bars, and she hasn't yet really been up to the task. Freshman Natalie Vaculik started slowly last week, but she had a very solid routine tonight. Her 9.80 could easily have been a 9.85 had the Soviet judge's score not dragged her down. (Note: Every judge that gives us a surprisingly low score is "the Soviet judge.") Overall, we need everybody to step it up just a little bit more on bars.
At "halftime" of the meet, the Gym Dogs had a 98.175-97.600 score over the Tigers. To be honest, though, we were just looking at UGA's scores tonight. Normally I like to see us in the 98.3-ish range at "halftime," since vault and bars have been our two best events over the past couple of years, but this was still improvement over last week, and that's the key.
In the third rotation, Danna's Dawgs went to the balance beam, and disaster (and the Soviet judge) struck again. Sarah Persinger fell during her routine, and Kiera Brown might have had the best beam routine of the night, but she completely wiped out on her dismount, landing on all fours on the mat. If Brown hadn't missed her dismounts on bars and beam, she would have had two 9.9+ scores on the night... but as it was, her 9.275 ended up being the fall we had to count.
It's also worth noting that both Mary Beth Box and Ashlyn Broussard had wonderful routines, and both deserved 9.9's. The Soviet judge struck again for both, though, and Broussard had to settle for a 9.875 (our highest beam score of the night), with Box carding a 9.85. Overall, the Gym Dogs tallied a disastrous 48.475 on the beam rotation due to having to count the fall. Mizzou scored a 48.700 on floor in their third rotation.
Finally, as usual at a home meet, the Dawgs finished on the floor, and we could all be forgiven if we held our breath a little before the rotation, given our bad luck last week and our generally poor performance on floor throughout all of 2014. On this night, however, the ladies came through with a great effort. Mary Beth Box was robbed of another 9.9 on the night for her effort, and if the judges had been watching the same routines I saw, she probably would have ended up with 9.9's (or better) on both beam and floor. As it was, however, she had to settle for a 9.875, which was our best floor score of the night. I also clearly missed something when watching Brandie Jay's routine, because looked to me like the best routine of the night, but somehow she ended up with only a 9.85, tied with freshman Vivi Babalis for the second-best floor score for the Dawgs. It was a solid final rotation, with Georgia putting up a team score of 49.150 for the final team score of 195.800. Mizzou had a solid beam rotation of 48.925 to close out their scoring for the night with a 195.225 team total.
Let's be honest, we were competing against ourselves tonight. No disrespect to the Tigers, but Mizzou is not an elite-level team. Their 195.225 score tonight might end up being one of their best of the season. (That's the other thing... Georgia is still a huge name in the college gymnastics world, and everybody is going to give Georgia their best shot. We're the Gym Dogs, dammit, and everybody is always gunning for us.)
Overall, I'm encouraged by the improvement that the ladies showed this week. My heart sank after last week's performance against Michigan, but Danna's Dawgs clearly used that meet as motivation to get tough and work even harder coming into this week, and that grit and determination will serve them well. As the season rolls on, we'll want to see continued improvement in the routines and landings, and if we can do that, we have the potential to be in a good position by the end of the season. Junior Brandie Jay seemed to agree with that sentiment in her post-meet remarks:
We were determined after Michigan to come back and work harder. We knew we could do better. We wanted to show the fans that we could do better. So we got to the gym and we worked on all of the problem areas that we had. We were fired up this week and our main focus was to have fun. We did that and we had an awesome meet.
In absolute terms, that final score of 195.800 probably means that we won't even sniff the top 3 or 4 spots in the rankings by the end of the year, but it should be good enough to keep us in about 7th place for now, and if our scores improve, our ranking can go higher, too. (We really want to be in that top 6... and ideally higher than just 6th.)
As we frequently do once or twice early in the season, the Gym Dogs have a two-meet weekend this weekend. What we don't frequently see, however, is traveling cross-country to do it. That's exactly what Georgia will be doing, however, as they'll be leavin' on a jet plane to Denver for their next meet on Monday, January 19th, against the 17th-ranked University of Denver Pioneers. The meet starts at 4:00 PM Eastern time, though since it's not a SEC venue, no live video broadcast will be available. You can usually find a link to the live scoring of the meet at the UGA website, however.
I'll be back on Monday night to recap the Denver meet, so until then...