As the Georgia Gym Dogs came rolling into Saturday's home meet in Stegeman Coliseum against the LSU Tigers, some of us (ok, primarily just me) were still riding on the high of beating the previous #1 team in the country, the Florida Gators, last Friday. Fortunately, however, our gymnasts themselves did not overlook the visiting Gym Tigers from the Pelican State. The Bayou Bengals were ranked 5th in the country, and had been ranked as high as #1 at one point. Not only that, but their top assistant coach is none other than former UGA head coach Jay Clark, which creates extra motivation on both sides of the mat.
Clearly, we knew that this day's competition was going to be just as much of a challenge as last week's meet, and possibly even more so, since it was unlikely that two straight top-5 teams would just happen to have their worst meets of the year on the day they stepped into the Steg to face our ladies. No, we needed to come into this meet against LSU and just plain beat them. Don't rely on them to make mistakes... just be better than them in every event. And, surprisingly (some might say shockingly), we did just that.
As is custom for home meets, Danna's Dawgs started out on the vault in the first rotation. Now, last week, we had seen an uncustomary dip in form in this, usually one of our best events. This week, however, the Gym Dogs got back on track, and in a big way. The scoring was led (as usual) by Brandie Jay with a 9.925 (that honestly could have been higher), and 9.90 scores were also collected by Gigi Marino and Sydney Snead. The Red and Black didn't have to count a score lower than 9.825 as UGA carded a huge 49.425 for the first rotation. LSU managed a respectable 49.20 on bars in their first rotation.
So after a fast start, the Gym Dogs moved over to the uneven bars, which has consistently been our best event this season. And then three of our first four performers got scores in the 9.7's range. That's not great, Bob. Fortunately, seniors Brandie Jay and Brittany Rogers saved our bacon with two huge anchor routines. Jay scored a 9.925, and Rogers blew the roof off with a huge 9.95 score that, to this observer's eyes, could have easily been a 10. And so, overall, the Dawgs carded a 49.25 for the second rotation, which is very respectable. LSU, competing on vault, added a 49.275 to their score, so at "halftime" of the meet, the home team was leading the affair by a score of 98.675-98.475.
Let's step back and look at the state of the meet at halftime. Both teams were on track to score in the 197 range, which is a very good score. Neither team had yet faltered, and both teams were very much still in the meet, with only 2-tenths separating them. Unfortunately, the Gym Dogs had been in this position before. Several times, in fact. And all of those hopes were dashed on a tiny strip of wood that we like to call "Satan's Apparatus." So though we had an excellent start, I'm sure everyone in attendance would have forgiven me for not being incredibly excited just yet. After all, the balance beam still lay in wait.
So the fans, understandably, collectively held their breaths as Danna's Dawgs moved to the beam for their third rotation. Fortunately, our ladies have stronger constitutions than some of us might have given them credit for, and they took the psychological hold on them which the beam appeared to have held and expelled it from the arena with great vigor. Natalie Vaculik started off with a solid routine, for which she earned a 9.825. Then Brandie Jay once again just demolished the beam and made it beg for mercy, carding a 9.90 for her efforts. Brittany Rogers then came along and played her own little version of "anything you can do I can do better," putting up a huge 9.925. And Vivi Babalis, fighting the same bum elbow she's fought all season, put in a 9.875 which was much more confident-looking than it has been in the past. And Ashlyn Broussard came out and put up her own 9.90 effort. Our senior anchor, Mary Beth Box, had a little more trouble than normal, but she didn't fall, and her 9.775 was the score we ended up dropping, but the pressure was off by the time she competed. For the first time this season, none of our beam performers fell (even the one whose score was dropped), and the Gym Dogs had put up a hugely massive 49.425 in the third rotation. A 49.425. On beam. So far in the 2016 season, only 3 teams in the country have tallied a beam rotation higher than this score. This was a huge, break-out night for us on the balance beam. LSU, on their third rotation, put up a 49.275 on the floor, which means that our beam rotation outscored LSU's floor rotation. That there was pretty encouraging to see.
Brittany Rogers doing her special move on the beam that I call by its highly technical name: "that Brittany Rogers thang."
Photo Credit: Emily Selby/UGA Sports Communications
And so going into the final rotation of the night, Georgia led LSU 148.10-147.75, a lead of 3.5 tenths of a point. Certainly not insurmountable if LSU had a great beam rotation and UGA managed to muck it up on the floor. Fortunately for the good
guys gals, this was not going to be the case. The entire team put in solid performances, and our usual suspects brought us home the victory in emphatic fashion. Gigi Marino scored a 9.90, showing once again why she might wind up being the biggest star in the sophomore class, and seniors Mary Beth Box and Brandie Jay both tallied 9.925 scores, coming up big exactly when our team needed them to do so. And so, for the third time in this meet, the Gym Dogs put up a rotation score of 49.425, this time on the floor. The huge finish gave Danna's Dawgs the final mark of 197.525 and the final winning margin over LSU of 7.25 tenths, after the Bayou Gym Bengals put up a 49.05 on the beam.
Head coach Danna Durante had this to say after the meet:
We talked about gaining momentum and building on the win over Florida last week. We wanted to put four complete events together where it was just consistent across the board. We were looking for consistent energy, consistent enthusiasm and consistent gymnastics. I think that's what we showed today.
Senior Brittany Rogers was also excited about the message this meet sent to her teammates and to the other elite teams around the country:
Never rule us out. We are a team that peaks midseason and peaks towards the end of the season. I think that's perfect because we're not getting burnt out in the beginning of the season. We're taking our time and that is exactly what Georgia is about. We never give up and hard work pays off. This team is so resilient.
Not sure that's how a "peak" works, Brittany, but I heartily endorse the sentiment.
This was what we come to see when we attend Gym Dog meets... a slobberknocker between two elite-level teams, and in which both teams are giving it their best shot. And one in which the Gym Dogs emerge victorious after a valiant struggle against a worthy foe. We didn't need them to stumble and bumble and hand the meet to us... we just went out and beat 'em. Straight up. That's Georgia Gymnastics. This was the "potential" to which I've been referring all season long, folks.
And once again, we won't have very long to sit on our laurels and enjoy this one. Our biggest test on this midseason gauntlet is coming up next week, when the new #1 team, the Oklahoma Sooners, come swaggering into Athens. (Oklahoma is the #1 team now because the then-#1 Florida Gators had a poor meet and we beat them last week, as you might recall, and which I brought up again just because I can. And because I hate Florida.) The Sooners rank in the top 3 in the country on every event, and haven't totaled an overall score lower than 197.050 in their last 7 meets. To beat the Sooners, we're going to have to do just as well as we did this week, and maybe then some.
As I've said all season, though, this team has the talent to compete with any team in the country. All we have to do is live up to our potential and be consistent. We've now done the former in at least one meet. What we have to prove from here on out is that we can do the latter. The Oklahoma meet will be next Saturday, February 20, in Stegeman Coliseum, and will start at 4:00 PM. The match will be televised on ESPN3.com through the SEC Network+ streaming package. Until then...