As the early-afternoon start time for the Georgia Gym Dogs' first home meet of the year approached, the atmosphere and anticipation in Stegeman Coliseum was palpable. The red-and-black-clad crowd was loud and had packed out the venue, eager to see their ladies perform in their home environs for the first time this season. Danna's Dawgs ran out of the tunnel to a huge ovation, clearly soaking in the warm welcome and receiving all the positive energy from the fans.
Noted "leader of the pack" Hairy Dawg was there getting some love from senior Mary Beth Box, too.- Photo credit: Emily Selby/UGA Sports Communications
When the dust cleared at the end of the meet, however, the old, familiar nightmare story had once again emerged. We had been vanquished, and the balance beam was the foe that had beaten us.
Summing this day up with a single statement of, "Crap score, crap team/meet/year/whatever," though, would be doing a huge disservice to this team and to the Georgia fans. The story today was practically a tale of two meets. There was the Gym Dogs meet, and then there was whatever the hell happened on the balance beam. It's also a valuable demonstration of how every single routine in every single event matters, and why there are no "unimportant" events. But I've already jumped to the end, when I should be starting at the beginning. And what a beginning it was.
As usual during home meets, the Gym Dogs started on the vault, and they accomplished a memorable start, indeed. Our first three competitors were pretty good, but our final three vaulters led the scoring with Gigi Marino scoring a 9.90, Brittany Rogers carding a 9.95, and Brandie Jay topping the charts with a 9.975. (A 9.975 means that one judge gave her a perfect 10 and the other... the Soviet judge, presumably... gave her a 9.95.) Those 3 scores, combined with the fact that we didn't have to count a score lower than 9.825, meant that the Dawgs tallied a first rotation score of 49.500 on vault, which was the highest vault score in the country up to this point in the season. Truly, it was just about the best possible start. Stanford put up a 49.025 in their first rotation on bars.
After that massive start, Danna's Dawgs moved to the bars for the second rotation and continued the great run of form. Our seniors once again led the way, with Brandie Jay carding a 9.90 and Brittany Rogers tallying a 9.925. We again didn't have to count a score lower than 9.825 as the team earned a 49.350 total score in the bars, for a huge "halftime" score of 98.85. Stanford put up a 48.85 on vault in the second rotation, for their "haltime" score of 97.875.
Brittany Rogers celebrates after completing her bars routine, for which she earned a 9.925. - Photo Credit: Emily Selby/UGA Sports Communications
So, let's set the stage. After half the meet had been completed, Georgia had set a national season-high score on vault and had set a team season-high score on bars. Stanford had pretty much kept pace with their own personal (relatively lower) standard of competition, and the Gym Dogs were sitting on a lead of nearly a full point, 98.85-97.875. That's like having a 5 touchdown lead at halftime of a football game.
And then, we went to the balance beam. After two very solid initial 9,80 performances by Ashlyn Broussard and Vivi Babalis, all of our final 4 gymnasts fell off the beam during their routines, including both of our seniors, one of whom (Mary Beth Box) has been an All-American on this apparatus. That's four falls in one event, three of which we had to count (since the lowest score is always dropped). As a result, our team total beam score was only 47.60. Combine that with Stanford's (not really too good) floor rotation score of 48.80, and the meet score stood at 146.675-146.45 in favor of the Cardinal. We had turned a nearly-full-point lead into a more-than-two-tenths deficit. To carry forward the football analogy, we had turned a 5-touchdown halftime lead into a touchdown deficit by the start of the 4th quarter.
It was a devastating rotation, but to the credit of the Bulldog faithful, the crowd at the Steg didn't let it dampen their spirits one iota as the Gym Dogs headed into their final rotation of the afternoon on the floor. And to our ladies' credit, their picked themselves up off the ground (literally and metaphorically) and put in a very good floor exercise rotation. Gigi Marino and Mary Beth Box led the way, both scoring 9.90's, and Danna's Dawgs didn't have to count a score lower than 9.825 as we tallied a final rotation score of 49.30. Stanford managed to have their best rotation of the night (by far) on their final rotation on the beam with a 49.20, which was enough to secure the meet victory for the ladies from Palo Alto.
And so, at the end of the meet, we had our best floor rotation of the season so far, the best bars rotation of the season so far, and the best vault rotation in the country so far this season... and we ended up with a terrible team score, losing to an opponent that's nowhere near the country's elite. All because of a nightmare rotation on beam that somehow managed to ensnare 2/3 of our entire lineup during a home meet, when the crowd was eagerly cheering for them.
How could this happen? Honestly, I have no idea. At first, I thought this might be the worst beam rotation in decades for the Gym Dogs, but then I went back to my records and saw that, no, we actually had a meet just last year at which 5 of our 6 ladies fell on their beam routines. On that night, we only managed a 47.40 on that rotation. So it's not a one-time thing. We've somehow managed to be so inconsistent on the balance beam in competitive meets that it's possible for us, in the same season (last season), to see beam rotation scores for the team ranging from 47.40 to 49.35. That's just crazy.
So which assistant coach is responsible for this travesty? Who is the
Mike Bobo Brian Schottenheimer of this outfit that clearly has to be fired as a result of this madness? Well, see, that's the interesting thing. Assistant coach Jay Hogue has primary responsibility for our bars work, which is generally our best (or, at least, most consistent) event. And assistant coach Phil Ogletree is primarily responsible for our vault and floor events. So, that leaves... yep.
Head coach Danna Durante herself is the coach that is responsible for our balance beam preparations. On the surface, you'd think this makes sense, since the beam was Coach Durante's specialty when she was competing, and she was named the 2007 assistant coach of the year while coaching beam (and floor) at Nebraska. Clearly, she's had success coaching gymnasts on beam routines in the past, and you don't think she'd just forget how to do that. But still... she's the person responsible for coaching up our ladies on the beam. When we see such disastrous inconsistencies on a multi-year basis, Coach Durante is the only one we have to blame.
With that said, however, I'm not joining our esteemed Mayor Emeritus on the #FireDannaDurante train just yet. For one thing, the season is still very young, and our group of Gym Dogs is still as incredibly talented as they were 12 hours ago before this meet happened. I firmly, 100% believe that the potential is still there to have a special season. Of course, this meet's score will sink our RQS, and therefore our national rankings. And no matter how much we subsequently turn it around, there's very little chance of climbing into the top 6 in the national rankings with this stain on our record. But as long as we're in that top 12, that's what matters for your postseason NCAA regional seeding, and once you're in the postseason, you're all starting from scratch, and that's what really matters.
So yes, this meet was an odd mix of very encouraging and very disheartening, and in its own way that's also rather demoralizing for the fans. But it's not time to give up on the season or on Coach Durante yet. We have a long way yet to go, and there's still a path for us this year to attain the high level of achievement we expect the Gym Dogs to reach. Let's stay firmly behind our ladies, and see how they can rebound from the failures of this meet and build off of the (far more numerous) successes.
Danna's Dawgs will next take the mat this Friday, January 22, in the SEC's "Good Columbia" against the 14th-ranked Missouri Tigers. The meet will start at 8:00 PM Eastern time, and will be streamed live at ESPN3.com (via the SEC Network+ programming package). Until then...