Let's get one thing straight: When it comes to gymnastics, I hate Alabama. I hate the Gym Tide with the fire of a thousand
suns burning balance beams being fueled by the fire of an additional thousand suns burning balance beams. Gymnastics is literally the only occasion where there is a team I hate more than Florida. In football? I'd even trade a win in the SEC Championship Game vs. Bama for a win in Jacksonville vs. the Gators. Every day of the week. Same goes for basketball, baseball, and even friggin' tiddly-winks. But when it comes to gymnastics... even considering that the Sunshine State Saurians have won back-to-back national titles... our mortal enemy is Alabama.
And coming into this meet, we knew that Bama could be defeated. They were ranked 5th in the country, but two of their three worst scores of the year have all been on the road. (In fact, they didn't schedule any non-conference road meets at all this year... talk about a favorable slate.) So we legitimately felt that if the Georgia Bulldogs could put together their best meet of the year and finally eclipse that 197 mark, we had a real chance to take down the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Instead, we were once again left wondering what might have been in this steadily-more-disappointing 2015 season.
As the meet started, the crowd was rocking, and the Georgia gymnasts really seemed to feed off the crowd's energy. In our first rotation on vault, we saw a 9.90 by senior Chelsea Davis (in her first competitive vault of the year!), a 9.95 by Brittany Rogers, and a 9.975(!!) by Ashlyn Broussard. We didn't have to count a score lower than 9.85 as the Gym Dogs put up an exceptional first rotation score of 49.55, our highest vault score of the year. Alabama started on bars and put up a 49.350, giving us a nice little lead to start the meet.
In the second rotation, we moved to bars, and unfortunately our stalwart Brandie Jay fell on the very first routine. I don't want to place the burden for the entire team on just one gymnast, but it seemed to me like the air came out of our collective balloon after Jay fell during her Tkatchev maneuver. The rest of the ladies did well, with senior Sarah Persinger carding a 9.90 and no other gymnast scoring below a 9.825, but the rest of the meet just went downhill for us after that first bars routine. With that said, we didn't have to count Jay's fall, and our bars score was a very respectable 49.300. Alabama tallied 49.425 in their vault rotation.
At halftime, the Gym Dogs had a lead, but it was by the narrowest of margins at 98.850 - 98.800. That was probably never going to be a big enough lead, since Bama's worst rotation was bars, and they actually scored higher on bars than we did. Also, the Tide are ranked #2 in the country on the floor, and we're... well, not. But you never know what's going to happen, and at the very least there was still an opportunity for us to put up a big score in the 197 range as we headed to the second half of the meet.
As fans, we couldn't be faulted for holding our collective breaths as our ladies headed to the balance beam. But over and over this year, it looks like our gymnasts are subconsciously holding their breaths, too... almost like they're continually waiting for the proverbial "other shoe to drop." Compared to the best gymnasts for teams like Alabama, Florida, and LSU, we look tentative and shy on the balance beam. The elite teams all look confident and aggressive... and we just don't really seem to have that as a squad. And when Kiera Brown fell in our second routine, my heart was in my throat (and my Mylanta was in my hand). But the home crowd cheered them on, and the rest of the team pulled it together admirably, with no Gym Dog other than Brown scoring below a 9.825. And Mary Beth Box... oh my, what a performance. In the anchor leg, she came up with a beautiful 9.95 that, in my opinion, could have been scored even higher. Well done indeed, Mary Beth. For the beam rotation, the Bulldogs carded a very respectable team score of 49.300. Unfortunately, Alabama was Alabama on the floor, and they tallied a season-high 49.525 in their third rotation.
Going into the final rotation, the Gym Tide had taken more than a 2-tenths lead, and the only realistic chance we had left to beat them was for Bama to have to count a fall on the balance beam. But still, as long as we could clear the incredibly-low 48.900 mark on the floor exercise, we would have our first 197+ score of the year, and that would, at least, be progress. Sadly, we did not see progress, but rather a regression.
Senior Sarah Persinger got us started off very well, with a solid 9.875, but then Ashlyn Broussard fell on her first pass, and Gigi Marino ended up on all fours during her final pass. So, two falls in our first three routines... and that was the end. No chance of winning, no chance at a 197... we were just done. And I don't know if that carried over to the rest of the team or not (I imagine it carried over to the crowd), but our final tumbling passes pretty much all seemed to be very poor tonight. Of the ladies that didn't fall, we had at least 3 nearly fall or take big steps on their final pass. Perhaps it was the let-down of the situation causing fatigue to become a factor, or perhaps we have a legitimate conditioning problem... I just don't know. What I do know is that we didn't see a score higher than Persi's initial 9.875, and we ended up having to count Broussard's 9.275. That gave us a 48.675 for the final rotation, which caused us to once again fall short of the 197 mark. (And Bama didn't have to count a fall on beam, anyway.)
At the end of the day, Alabama sat in the driver's seat with a 197.675 score on Georgia's home mat as they continue to improve heading late into the season, and Georgia was left sitting on the curb wondering what had happened to yet again prevent them from even seeing the 197 mark.
As I sat for a while reflecting on this meet, I had a realization... call it an epiphany, even. I keep thinking of Georgia as being the peer of a top-6 team like Alabama because I think that's where we belong, and I think we have the potential to be a team that's that good. And both of those things might be true. I do think the potential is there, and there's no doubt that, from a historical standpoint, UGA is the peer of any gymnastics program in the country. At this point in the season, however, I just have to admit what we are, not what I want us to be. Georgia is an inconsistent team that looks capable of competing with the best teams in the country, but all too often we droop to the point where we can barely scrape by against SEC cellar-dwellers Mizzou, and then lose the next week to a program like the University of Denver. We don't have the confidence (or... and I hate this word... "swagger") of the classic Gym Dogs squads, and we certainly don't have the consistency.
Everybody else around us in the rankings is getting better as the season rolls on, but we seem to be stagnant at our 196.(something) glass ceiling. You know, as I was typing that last sentence, I realized that my red-and-black-colored glasses are still on even with that statement. We haven't stagnated at the 196 level... we've actually improved to get to that level compared to where we started the season. Every team above us in the rankings has at at least 1 meet with a 197+ score. Two teams below us in the rankings have, too (Penn State and Stanford). At this point, as much as I hate to admit it, Georgia might actually be the 11th-best team in the country in 2015. And that's unacceptable.
Maybe I'm being too harsh, though. I'll admit, I'm just sour about losing to Alabama. Much like losing to Florida in Jacksonville, it brings out the worst in me. The absolute worst. I hate (expletive deleted) Alabama. Let's just move on to the next week and hope we're at least good enough to beat Auburn (who, it should be noted, is currently 3 spots above us in the rankings).
The Gym Dogs' next meet will be their final away meet of the regular season, as they travel to the Plains to face the #8-ranked Auburn Tigers. The meet will be next Friday, February 27, and will begin at 8:00 PM. It will be streamed live on the SEC Network+ Internet feed (which can be accessed through the WatchESPN app/website).