After our first two meets, I had started to muster some optimism as it related to the 2015 edition of the Georgia Gym Dogs. We started with a pretty poor first meet against Michigan, but we had improved last Friday against Missouri, and all signs were pointing to continued improvement in the days and weeks to come as the season progressed.
That positive momentum was suddenly and violently arrested Monday evening in Denver, though, as the Gym Dogs had one of the worst beam rotations in the program's history enroute to scoring only a 194.300 and losing to the 17th-ranked Denver Pioneers.
As is custom in an away meet, the Dawgs started on bars, and got solid performances by both Rachel Schick and Brandie Jay, who scored 9.90's. (Congratulations to Rachel Schick, who got the first 9.9 of her career and answered some of the criticism I pointed her way after the Mizzou meet.) Unfortunately, only one other Gym Dog even scored above a 9.8 (Chelsea Davis, with a 9.825), and the team managed a 49.125 on the first rotation. Now, a 49.125 isn't really bad or anything, but the lack of consistent performances across the team is the primary concern here. Bars should be our best event, and in your best event you definitely want to score higher than a 49.125 to get a good final score. We really need to be in the 49.3 range consistently, and we would get there if we had more consistent performances from all 6 ladies on the same night. Denver tallied a 49.05 on vault in their first rotation.
In the second rotation, the Georgia ladies moved to vault and put in a serviceable, if not amazing, rotation. Ashlyn Broussard led the team with a 9.875 and we only had to count 2 sub-9.8 scores enroute to a rotation total of 49.05. Denver carded a 48.625 on the bars in their second rotation.
At halftime, Danna's Dawgs had a solid 98.175-97.675 lead and, once again, as is custom for away teams, we led off the third rotation on the floor. Freshman Vivi Babalis led the way on the floor with a 9.85, but our veterans Kiera Brown and Sarah Persinger both made major mistakes in their routines, and we had to end up counting Persinger's 9.625. That, combined with an uninspiring effort from the rest of the team, led the Gym Dogs to a pedestrian third rotation total of 48.725.
Even with that poor floor rotation, though, the Dawgs still had a prohibitive 146.9-145.975 lead going into the final rotation, with UGA scheduled for the beam and Denver scheduled for the floor. Basically, all the Dawgs had to do was not have more than one performer fall on the beam, and we would win the meet.
Instead, we only had one performer that didn't either fall or make a major mistake on the beam. That was freshman Natalie Vaculik who turned in 9.70. Normally, we'd be targeting that as the score we'd want to drop. But tonight, it was the best we could muster, as no other Gym Dog scored higher than 9.575 on their beam routines. Mary Beth box led off the beam rotation with a fall resulting in a 9.20, and Vaculik followed up with her solid performance. Then Persinger made some kind of mistake (Note: This meet was not available over the internet, so I wasn't able to actually see any of the routines.) that resulted in a 9.55, and then Ashlyn Broussard fell and carded a 9.3. Vivi Babalis then turned in a 9.575, and our anchor on beam, Kiera Brown, also fell and managed only a 9.275. They dropped Box's 9.2, but still had to count the 2 other falls and 2 other "major mistake" routines, which was an absolute killer.
The Dawgs' final tally of 194.300 is the worst result posted by a UGA gymnastics squad in 20 years... almost to the day, in fact. The last Gym Dog squad to post a score this low was Suzanne Yoculan's 1995 team in a tri-meet on February 3, 1995, against Utah and BYU. (It's worth noting that scoring in college gymnastics used to be much lower across the board, and only in the mid-to-late '90's did the scores consistently rise to the level at which we see them today, which is pretty much 196+ in every meet for the best teams.)
What can you say in reaction to a meet like this? It was worse than anything Jay Clark had dialed up, and worse than anything UGA had ever put up in the modern era. When you watch this team, you get glimpses and hints that they're capable of something greater, but at some point, you are only as good as the scores say you are.
More importantly, though, this is the kind of event that can break a team psychologically if you're not careful. You can practically watch it happen if you go down that routine list on the beam. Our lead-off performer, who is normally solid, has a bad fall, and then our senior leader, performing 3rd, also has a poor score. Then the next gymnast also falls, so you know you're going to have to count at least 1 fall and 1 bad score. Your freshman competing 4th gets a little tentative and has a poor score, and then the anchor, who is supposed to be the strongest performer on beam, also falls. It's a nightmare come true.
But this disaster has happened, and there's nothing we can do about it now. The danger, as I said, is that this psychologically haunts the team for the rest of the season. Every time you stare up at that beam, it's all too easy to remember the nightmares that have come along with it, and you can too easily psych yourself out. If we still entertain any possible hope of competing at the national level this year, we have to hope Coach Danna Durante can do something to keep that from happening to our ladies. I don't know how you do it, but we'd better hope she can find a way. if we keep tracking along this path, it's not going to end well for anybody.
And to add insult to injury, the new college gymnastics rankings came out just before the Denver meet, showing that the Gym Dogs had declined to 10th in the rankings after their terrible first two meets. And that's before this disaster. I'm just doing some back-of-the-napkin math here, but this 194.300 score will drop our average meet score to 195.233, which in this current rankings table would put us at 15th in the country. Fortunately for us, we have another meet before the next rankings come out, so we can lift that average score with a good showing this weekend.
And speaking of this weekend, the Gym Dogs next meet will be this Saturday against the 14th-ranked Kentucky Wildcats at Stegeman Coliseum at 4:00 PM. Note that UK is ranked #14, which means that if our score from Denver were included in the rankings, they'd actually be ranked above us, probably for the first time in their history.
We've got a lot of ground to make up, and Coach Danna Durante has a lot of coach-type stuff to do, I think, to ensure this season and this team doesn't completely fall apart on us. The only thing we can do, though, is move on to the next meet and cheer our Gym Dogs on as they attempt to improve. I would say, "It can only get better from here," but I said that last week, too. I won't make that mistake again.