After psyching myself up for the start to this season (though honestly, it was mostly a case of "please god anything but football,"), the Gym Dogs wasted little time in dashing my hopes for a spectacular season quite effectively on Saturday afternoon in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Oh, don't get me wrong... the season is far, far from being over. And one bad road meet to start off the year essentially means absolutely nothing in terms of postseason rankings, since only your best 5 "away" scores and best 5 "home" scores count for the RQS rankings, and we've got 6 more away meets left this season (7 if you count the SEC Championship, and that actually does count as an "away meet" for RQS purposes). In fact, it's going to be far more serious if we lay an egg like this at home, since we only have 5 home meets, so every single home meet score will count towards our RQS. And even then, this score will only sink us to 8th in the national rankings. (Michigan's score will be good enough to tie them for the #1 spot with LSU, by the way. It's still early.) So it's not the end of the world, though it's certainly not good, either.
Indeed, it's not unreasonable to consider today's meet almost like a preseason matchup. Still, though... the fan in me sees a score in the low 195's and gets incredibly deflated. National championship-caliber teams don't come out and throw up a 195.2 on any night.
As deflating as this meet turned out to be, however, there were some bright spots on the evening. Most notably, the performance of freshman Sydney Snead, who personally had a fantastic premiere in a Gym Dogs outfit. Let's take a closer look at how the rotations panned out:
As is the custom for a visiting team, Danna's Dawgs started the meet on the uneven bars, while the homestanding Wolverines started on the vault. Natalie Vaculik led off the night with a good routine, but couldn't stick her landing, and earned a 9.775. Freshman Gracie Cherrey got her Gym Dogs premiere and went second, carding a 9.75. Then Sydney Snead took the floor and banged home the first 9.90 of the season, an impressive showing in her very first routine as a Gym Dog. Rachel Shick had a very good routine but unfortunately fell on her landing, meaning her 9.25 was the score we dropped. Brandie Jay and Brittany Rogers rounded out the rotation with a 9.825 and 9.875, respectively. Personally, I don't see how the judges failed to award Rogers a 9.9, because that was her best bars routine in a long time... but I'm not a judge. The Dawgs carded a team score of 49.125 for their first rotation, which isn't too bad for the first meet of the season. Michigan, on vault, tallied a 49.050, and Danna's Dawgs had the lead for the first (and only) time all night.
The second rotation saw the Gym Dogs switch places with Michigan, heading to the vault while the Wolverines headed to the bars. After such a positive start on bars, this is where the wheels started to come off. The key on vault is sticking your landing (no movement, no "hops," no steps, etc.), and only two UGA gymnasts stuck their landings: Natalie Vaculik and Sydney Snead. Snead was rewarded with our highest score of the rotation, a 9.875, but somehow Vaculik only got a 9.80. (This is usually explainable due to being a lower degree of difficulty, but Vaculik's vault wasn't that much lower.) Overall, it was a relatively lackluster vault rotation, with a team total of only 48.925. (In general, we want our lowest rotations to still be around the 49.1 range.) Michigan turned in a 49.200 on their bars rotation, taking a 98.25-98.05 lead into "halftime" of the meet.
In the third rotation, Danna's Dawgs moved to the floor exercise, while Michigan went to the beam. Usually, the floor is where most teams put up their biggest scores, but it has been a challenge for us in the past. (It doesn't help that we usually start off the season with lower-difficulty tumbling passes, which means it's impossible for you to score a 10.) Sydney Snead got into her 3rd event of the night and led off with a very solid 9.825. Gigi Marino, in my opinion, was absolutely robbed of a 9.9 after executing a flawless routine, but the hometown judges in Ann Arbor only found it worthy of a 9.875. Fortunately, Mary Beth Box picked up right where she left off last year, turning in the best performance of the night and carding a 9.90 for her efforts. Surprisingly, both of our other seniors, Jay and Rogers, had difficulties in their tumbling passes, but the solid work laid down by the first four Gym Dogs meant that we were still able to salvage a team rotation score of 49.15, which would turn out to be our best rotation of the night. It was also enough to claw a little bit of the point margin back from the Wolverines, who only managed 49.100 on beam in their third rotation.
Unfortunately, in the final rotation of the night on beam, it all fell completely apart. Our first beam competitor, Ashlyn Broussard, fell during her routine, and it seemed that after that, the next few ladies had their confidence shaken and were performing rather tenatively. Then our third beam performer, Rachel Shick, also fell, and we were done from a competitive standpoint. Seniors Brittany Rogers and Mary Beth Box were anchoring the rotation, and they put in solid performances, but the damage had been done. (And for the record, Box got absolutely shafted with a 9.80. Her performance was fantastic, and deserved at least a 9.85, if not more.) Since we had to count one of the falls, we only managed a 48.000 on the beam... a horrific score. Combine that with Michigan's huge 49.575 on floor, and you get the final margin of victory for the Wolverines.
Head coach Danna Durante had this to say afterwards:
There were quite a few positives. We had a mistake on each of the events early on and the rest of the team came back and really was resilient and finished each event strong. We struggled a little bit on beam, but I loved the way we warmed up. I love that those that nailed their routines, they just kept coming. And even those that made the mistake finished the rest of the routine really strong. There's a lot to build on and there's a lot to grow from.
I appreciate that Coach Durante was trying to look for the positives after tonight, especially since it's just the first meet and the entire season is still ahead of us. But with all due respect, saying "we struggled a little bit on beam" is kind of like saying, "the football team struggled a little bit against Florida." It's a massive understatement. Still, there were bright spots. Sydney Snead performed very well in her 3 events, and Mary Beth Box continued to be a star on floor and beam. I also enjoyed seeing Brittany Rogers healthy enough to return to the all-around, though she struggled somewhat on her vault and floor routine.
And, to be fair, to some extent we got caught in the old snare that usually affects visiting teams, where the cheering crowd influences judges to give the home team better scores. With all our falls, it wouldn't have helped us win the meet tonight, but that doesn't change the fact that it was still there on our better routines. (Specifically, I'm thinking about Marino's and Box's floor routines, Box's beam routine, and Vaculik's vault.)
The season's not over for the Gym Dogs, and it could be fairly said that we can still act like the season hasn't even begun, because this will probably be one of the scores we'll drop in our RQS rankings at the end of the year. Still, though, it never feels good to lose to an old rival. But the season is still young, and all of our goals are still in front of us, so Danna's Dawgs will roll on to their next meet, which is this coming Friday, against Arkansas in Fayetteville. The meet will start at 8:30 PM, and will be broadcast live on the SEC Network.
Let's hope this turns out to be just a stumble out of the gate for the Gym Dogs, and they can get the season rolling with a good showing against an Arkansas team that they, quite frankly, should beat easily. Until next time...