There's no way to beat around the bush here: It's been a rough start to the season on the balance beam. In Georgia's first 4 meets, we've had to count at least 1 fall on the beam in 3 of the them. So, in spite of the fact that we've actually had a great start on the other 3 apparatuses, our meet scores so far this year have only been enough to get us into 13th place in the national standings.
To give you some perspective on how crazy this is, consider this: So far this season, as a team we rank 4th in the country on vault, 4th in the country on bars, and 7th in the country on floor exercise. Those are pretty good numbers, and I'd take them every day of the week. On beam, we rank 43rd in the country. No, that's not a typo. Forty-third. That's how big a gulf there is between our beam performances and literally every other apparatus on which we perform. This is why, last week, I decided to name the balance beam, "The Gator," since it had clearly gotten into our heads and was inexplicably kicking our butt.
Fortunately, on Friday night in Lexington, Kentucky, Danna's Dawgs made a significant step in the right direction. We did have one gymnast fall on the beam, but it was only one, so we didn't have to count that fall, and as a result, we had a very respectable final score and easily defeated a SEC foe that, honestly, we should always easily defeat.
As the visiting team, the Gym Dogs started the night on bars, and put in their usual exceptional performance. I thought the judging was a little tight across the board on both bars and vault (for both teams), but even with that tight judging, Brittany Rogers still managed a 9.925 to lead the scoring for the Dawgs, and freshman sensation Sydney Snead put in a strong performance with a 9.875. It's also worthy of note that freshman Gracie Cherrey had a very solid 9.85 in her bars performance, which is her season-high so far; a welcome sight for a freshman that has had a pretty rough first campaign. Overall, the Gym Dogs scored a 49.325 in their first rotation on bars, while UK carded a 48.50 on their first rotation on vault.
In the second rotation, Danna's Dawgs moved over to the vault, and had an uncharacteristically "off" night on what to this point has consistently been their best apparatus. Brandie Jay led the way with a 9.90, and Sydney Snead put in another very solid 9.85, but other than that, we generally didn't stick our landings (among other miscues), and we only managed a paltry 48.975 on the rotation. (To achieve the scores we want to see, you generally want a score no lower than 49.10 or so in every rotation.) The Gym Cats scored 48.825 in their second rotation on bars.
So, at "halftime," we once again had almost a full-point lead over an outclassed SEC foe, 98.30-97.325. And for the third time this season, all we had to do to easily win the meet was simply not have a huge disaster on one of our final two events. (Fortunately, this time we didn't.)
The third rotation saw the Gym Dogs on the floor exercise, and Mary Beth Box led the way with a 9.90 on her amazing floor routine. I swear, if she makes it through this season without getting a 10, there will be no justice in the judging world. Her floor routine is exceptional, and when she absolutely nails it, it's a true thing of beauty to watch. (To be fair, the same is true of Brandie Jay's, Brittany Rogers', and Gigi Marino's routines. All 4 of those ladies are capable of getting 10's if they're having "on" nights. I do think Box is the best we've got right now on the floor, though.) For the rotation, Danna's Dawgs tallied a respectable 49.200, while Kentucky put up a 48.80 on beam.
And so, we moved to the final rotation with a massive 147.50-146.125 lead. But that final rotation was on the
beam Gator, so every Gym Dog fan could be forgiven for collectively holding our breaths. I gotta be honest here; I didn't even care about the scores. I just wanted to get through a beam rotation without having to count a fall (and, ideally, without anybody falling at all). That's all we needed to win this meet, and simply not falling would be a step in the right direction and a sorely-needed confidence-boost for this squad.
Coach Danna Durante clearly recognized the need for change on the beam (as evidenced in her post-meet remarks from last week), and significantly changed both the lineup and the order of competition. Ashlyn Broussard and Rachel Schick were bumped from the lineup, in favor of Natalie Vaculik (for the first time) and Brandie Jay. Also, Gracie Cherrey was put back into the beam lineup, which was rather surprising, since she had previously fallen in 2 of her first 3 performances on the beam. Still, though, I can't criticize Coach Durante's decisions, since clearly some sort of shakeup was needed. And though our beam rotation wasn't exactly inspiring, we did manage to make it through with only 1 fall, which we didn't have to count. (For the record, Cherrey fell again, which makes 3 falls in her 4 performances this season. A very rough start for the freshman.) We had lots of bobbles and wobbles, and one other gymnast (Babalis) who very nearly almost fell, but didn't. As a results, only one competitor, Brittany Rogers, even scored in the 9.8 range, a 9.875. All of our other scores were in the 9.7's, and Vivi's was a 9.60, but we still had a rotation score of 48.775, which was our second-highest beam score so far this season. That score isn't great or anything, but it's a helluva lot better than what we'd seen in most of our meets up to this point, so that's progress. And progress is good. Kentucky wrapped up their meet on floor with a 48.925.
And so the Gym Dogs finally beat an inferior opponent by a convincing margin, and in doing so put up a score that's in the general range we've come to expect from them. We did that by finally besting the metaphorical Gator that's been kicking our tail most of this year.
Next week, we move from competing against the metaphorical Gator to much-less-metaphorical Gators, as the #1-ranked, defending national champion University of Florida gymnastics team will come rolling into Stegeman Coliseum. The Gym Saurians are ranked in the top 3 in the country on every apparatus, including #1 on Bars and Beam, and look to be just as loaded this year as they were last year, when they steamrolled almost every other team in the Super Six. They've only registered a score lower than 197 once this season, and it was in their first meet; a 196.825. In fact, every score they've tallied so far this year has been better than any meet score we've put up this year. (Our best meet to date was a 196.775.) And in addition, their score in Friday's meet against Alabama was a 198.175, the highest score posted by any team in the country so far this season. Clearly, this will be a great challenge.
If you look beyond the numbers, though, I think we've got a chance against these ladies. We saw in the first home meet of the year that the Stegeman crowd can push our gymnasts to great heights, and as long as we can keep our newfound momentum going on the beam, we could have a chance to put up our best score of the year. If we do that, we will definitely have a chance to beat the Sunshine State Gym Saurians.
In order to do that, though, we'll need the Dawg Nation to come out loud and proud on Friday and let the Gym Dogs know just how much we love them, and let the Gym Gators know just how much we hate them. (And if there's one thing I know how to do, it's to tell people how much I hate Florida.)
The meet vs. the Florida Gators will be this coming Friday at 7:00 PM in Stegeman Coliseum. The meet will be televised live on the SEC Network.