After an excellent homestand that saw the Gym Dogs go 2-1 against 3 straight top-5 programs, including a victory over then-#1 Florida... the bottom dropped out as soon as we went on the road again. On Friday night against our biggest rival, the Alabama Gym Tide, Danna's Dawgs put up their lowest score of the last month; their worst since the meet at Mizzou on January 22. And more than that, it wasn't just the beam that doomed us, but our failures on what was supposed to be our best event: the uneven bars. And not only that, but we picked up injuries to two of our best gymnasts.
I guess you could say it wasn't our best night as a program.
The night started on the uneven bars, and literally from the first routine, things headed south. Natalie Vaculik has consistently gotten scores in the 9.8x range on bars, but on this night it was not to be. On her transition from the upper bar to the lower bar, she lost control of her flight, flipping backwards very awkwardly during her handstand and falling off the lower bar. To her credit she tried... hard... to hold it, but the momentum was just too much, and she hit the floor. Falling is one thing, but I was immediately concerned about her back. That fall was very awkward, and it doesn't take much imagination to see that she could have definitely wrenched or back or hit awkwardly on the mat when she landed on her knee or foot or something. UGA doesn't publicly release injury information about gymnasts, so we don't know what happened, but we do know that she was probably injured in some way, because she was scrubbed from the vault rotation after being on the pre-meet lineup that the UGA twitter account sent out.
After Vaculik's injury, the rest of the team carried on with strong resolve, including Brandie Jay scoring a 9.90 on her routine. Unfortunately, in the anchor routine, Brittany Rogers shockingly also fell off the bars. Brittany hadn't previously scored below 9.85 on bars this season, and she usually gets into the 9.9x range. The bars are her best event. And she fell. As a result, Rogers' 9.25 was the fall we counted, as the Gym Dogs carded a 48.500 in the opening rotation. This was easily our season low, with the previous lowest bars score being the 49.125 we carded in the first meet of the season against Michigan. Alabama launched into a 49.400 on vault on their first rotation on the back of a perfect 10 scored by Lauren Beers. (I call her Lauren Cervezas, but that's because Alabama gymnastics is the only team, in any sport, that I dislike more than Florida, and I was looking for something... anything... which which to mock Alabama tonight.)
During the second rotation, the Gym Dogs picked up the pieces and put in a solid effort on the vault. Natalie Vaculik was scrubbed from the lineup and replaced with junior Lauren Johnson. Lauren, as you might recall, was the gymnast who replaced Noel Couch on short notice due to injury during her freshman year at the SEC Championship meet and promptly won the SEC individual title on vault. And she did a serviceable job this night as an emergency stand-in, carding a 9.80. Brittany Rogers led the Gym Dogs on vault with a 9.925 as the team carded a 49.325 for the second rotation. Alabama put up a 49.525 on their bars rotation to lead the Dawgs 98.925-97.825 at halftime.
Let's be honest; after the first rotation, we knew that we'd have to have a flawless night the rest of the way and still have Bama count a fall to even be competitive in this meet, and neither of those things happened. In fact, things only got worse, as in the third rotation, Brittany Rogers got injured on her final floor exercise tumbling pass. She appeared to come up short on her landing, and she was shown on TV wincing while receiving treatment on the training table afterwards. For the entire rotation, we had our usual suspects of Gigi Marino and Mary Beth Box get their customary 9.90's, and Brandie Jay was absolutely robbed of a 9.9, as well, getting instead a 9.875. For the third rotation, the team scored a 49.350, which is a pretty good score, given that the judges lowballed basically everybody on our team. (Home cookin' is absolutely a thing on the floor exercise, as we have seen all year. You'd think floor judges would be used to resisting the influence of the home crowd... but nope.)
Finally, we ended the night on the beam. To their credit, both Natalie Vaculik and Brittany Rogers pushed through the pain of their injuries and competed their routine on the beam. Unfortunately, Natalie fell, as did Ashlyn Broussard, which forced us to count a fall on beam. But I'm proud of Natalie and Brittany for gritting their teeth and giving their all in a tough circumstance. Mary Beth Box led the scoring on beam with a 9.90, and the team's total beam score was 48.525.
Individually, Brandie Jay took her 6th consecutive All-Around meet title. Brandie is easily the hottest competitor on our team right now, and on this night she continued her streak of having won the All-Around in every meet in which she's competed in every event. She's currently ranked 10th in the country in the All-Around, and has head-to-head wins over several gymnasts ahead of her in the rankings, including Oklahoma's Chayse Capps and Keeley Kmieciak, Florida's Kennedy Baker, and LSU's Myia Hambick. Vivi Babalis also had a solid night performing with her bum elbow, garnering 9.85's on both floor and beam on a night when we sorely needed both of them.
After the meet, Coach Danna Durante had this to say:
The first thought that comes to mind is obviously disappointment. I know that this team is better than what we've shown. They know that too. We just need to figure out how to compete like we're capable. We'll keep working on that.
I have no reaction to that comment other than to say, "Yep."
There's no whitewashing it; this meet was a huge step back for Danna's Dawgs. We had been on a roll over the past 4 month. We'd been continuing to improve and be more consistent week in and week out. And then we collectively face-planted against our biggest rival. Not only that, but we picked up 2 injuries to major contributors. If anybody has any hemlock, you might not want to uncork the bottle yet, but you probably should be making sure it's properly chilled. Let's just hope Rogers and Vaculik can get back to 100% before the postseason.
The Gym Dogs' next meet is their final regular season home meet of the year, and will be this Friday, March 4, against Auburn. The meet will start at 7:00 PM, and will be streamed live at ESPN3.com as part of the SEC Network+ broadcast package. Seniors Mary Beth Box, Brandie Jay, and Brittany Rogers will be honored as part of the Senior Day festivities. Until then...