The Georgia Gym Dogs traveled to Baton Rouge Friday night for their second straight away meet against a team ranked #3 in the country. And just like last week, they put up a valiant effort, but ultimately came up short to a home team that put up their best score of the year to that point.
Also, Les Miles was there, and did Les Miles things as his trademark hand-clap-like-a-1-year-old was mimicked by LSU gymnast Lloimincia Hall during her floor routine.
(Click once to view the video, and click it again when you want to stop it from looping.)
LSU was also repeatedly the apparent beneficiary of some truly impressive Heauxm Cookin' by the judges... but I'll get to that in a minute.
We got some bad news before the meet even started, as we learned that Sophomore/Redshirt Freshman Rachel Schick had broken her thumb during practice early in the week and would be out of the lineup for at least 2 weeks. That's a blow for us, since Schick has been a solid contributor for us on bars, and we have far less depth on bars this year than is normal for us. (It's also bad luck for her, since Shick was sidelined all of her freshman season with an injured hip). It sounds like her injury isn't too bad, though, and hopefully she'll be back at full strength before the postseason.
Since we were the visiting team, the Gym Dogs started on bars. We had some really good routines, especially by Brittany Rogers and Chelsea Davis. Somewhat inexplicably, though, neither Rogers nor Davis were rewarded by the judges with a 9.9+ score. Both of them received 9.875's. It could have just been tight judging by the Soviet judge, but I don't know. Rogers and Davis' routines looked pretty damn good, and they both featured absolutely stuck landings. Nevertheless, the Dawgs didn't have to count a score lower than 9.80 enroute to a first rotation total of 49.225. LSU had a massive vault rotation, carding a 49.450, with 3 9.9+ scores, including a vault by Rheagan Courville that managed to receive a 9.95 even though her knees wobbled mightily on the landing and came this close to completely buckling. (I mention that because it will become notable in a moment.)
Georgia and LSU switched places for the second rotation, and Danna's Dawgs showed significant improvement across the board on the vault. Freshman Natalie Vaculik led off with a 9.9, and every single Gym Dog scored at least a 9.85. Brandie Jay's vault, however, stood out to me the most. (Check out the video of the meet highlights at the UGA website and you can see her vault for yourself. It's the first thing they show in the video.) Brandie's vault was just as difficult as Courville's, and Brandie absolutely stuck the hell out of the landing in a way that Courville absolutely did not. Yet Brandie only received a 9.925, while Courville got her aforementioned 9.95. All I can say about that is that I hope the judges started with a roux when they gave Courville that score. Georgia notched a season-high 49.425 on the vault rotation, and LSU registered a 49.375 on bars. And once again, I'm biased and was already a little ticked off at our surprisingly insufficient bars scores from the judges, but I don't see what was so much better about LSU's bars routines than ours. Yet they had 2 gymnasts with 9.9+ scores on bars and we had zero. (The answer, of course, is probably that Les Miles was there. Weird stuff that benefits LSU always happens when Les Miles is in the building.)
At halftime, we were trailing the Tigers by a score of 98.825 - 98.650. And since bars and vault are typically our strengths, we knew at this point that we probably were not going to win. Still, though, your overall score matters in the rankings, and doubly so for us as we try to dig out of that early-season hole, so the last two rotations were critical.
In the third rotation, the Gym Dogs moved to the floor exercise, and we once again saw evidence of LSU's #HeauxmCookin at work. Two, in fact: First, LSU's floor exercise mat is purple. Why the hell does LSU get to use a purple mat for floor? The SEC made us give up our red mat years ago in favor of the regulation blue, but LSU still gets to use purple? I'm calling b.s. on that. Second, the announcers (who once again were the outstanding Bart Conner and Kathy Johnson Clarke) remarked many times about how LSU's floor mat is "a lot bouncier" than the regulation floor mat, and that tends to screw up gymnasts that are competing on it for the first time.
So let's review: LSU uses a nonstandard floor exercise mat that is also not the standard color. And why? (Answer: Because Les Miles was there, obviously.) At any rate, as you're probably guessing by now, this was an issue for the Gym Dogs, as Ashlyn Broussard fell on the final pass of her routine and Kiera Brown and Brandie Jay both had significant enough problems with one of their passes that they ended up in the 9.7 range of scores. Also, it's worth noting in general that with the exception of Brandie Jay and Mary Beth Box (who should have gotten a 9.9 on her routine), we haven't been performing the most difficult level ("E" level) tumbling skills all year on floor that every other elite team has been performing. This is the point in the season where most gymnasts are putting those most-difficult passes into their floor routines (if not before), so it's a little disturbing that Coach Danna Durante is still holding back with most of her ladies. Perhaps they're not consistent enough yet or simply not capable of making those passes... I don't know. What I do know, though, is that to be competitive with the elite teams on floor (and possibly even to make the Super Six at the end of the year), we'll need to have that upgraded difficulty in place and rock solid. Due to having to count both a 9.75 and a 9.775, the Gym Dogs only managed a 49.075 on the floor rotation. LSU somehow managed a 49.625 on beam, besting their previous best beam score of the season by a full 3 tenths. (#HeauxmCookin)
Finally, Georgia ended the meet on the beam, and we were once again the recipients of some truly mystifying judging decisions. Ashlyn Broussard, for example, had a magnificent, very clean routine, capped off with a 100% stuck landing. Yet that was only good for a 9.875 in the judges' estimation. The same goes for Brittany Rogers, who had a balance check or two here and there, but also had a very solid routine, only to get a 9.85. Considering that LSU had three 9.95's and a 9.9 during their beam rotation, I find that a little suspicious. The beam judges weren't judging tightly all night... just when the Gym Dogs got there. Danna's Dawgs tallied a 49.125 for their beam efforts, and LSU carded a 49.625 on floor to reach the final score of 198.075 for the Tigers and 196.850 for the Dawgs.
If I'm being honest, I'd have to admit that at this point in the 2015 season, LSU is probably a better team than Georgia. They'd likely have beaten us without the grade inflation and "heauxm cookin" that they got from the judges, though it would have been by a much smaller margin. Ultimately, as you look at the Gym Dogs' effort, you have to say that they are building the consistency we need from them. Now they just need to upgrade some difficulties on the floor, continue tightening up their beam, and we'll be well on the path to where we want to go.
I'm very encouraged at the performances of the younger ladies in particular, with freshman Natalie Vaculik turning in very positive performances on vault (9.9), beam (9.8) and bars (9.7) tonight. It's not common for a freshman to get competition routines in 3 events, and that speaks well for Vaculik. Same goes for freshman Gigi Marino, who looked very solid on vault (9.85) and floor (9.85). Vivi Babalis continues to improve, as well, especially on floor (9.825). Also, junior Mary Beth Box is stepping up very nicely as an upperclassman. She's quickly becoming the rock we need at anchor on beam, and she's probably only second on floor to Brandie Jay.
Overall, the building blocks are there, I think. We just need to keep building and going higher. We're going to have to break through that 197 barrier sooner or later. Every program in the top 7 has. We need to do so, as well.
The Gym Dogs will close our their 3-meet road trip with a visit to Chapel Hill and the University of North Carolina this coming Saturday, February 14. The meet will start at 1:00 PM, and will not be televised, because
the ACC is dumb the SEC Network only televises home meets for SEC teams. Until then...