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Gym Dogs Lose to Auburn, 197.325-197.275

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Nobody likes losing to Auburn, but you can't call it a failure when it's your second-highest score of the year.

The 2016 Gym Dog seniors share a moment before the meet on senior day.
The 2016 Gym Dog seniors share a moment before the meet on senior day.
Emily Selby/UGA Sports Communications

On Senior Night in Stegeman Coliseum, the 10th-ranked Georgia Gym Dogs took the mat at home for the final time in the regular season against the 8th-ranked Auburn Gym Tigleswomen, and fought like hell. Unfortunately, they came up just barely short, falling to the Gymgleswomen by half of a tenth of a point. Honestly, the fact that we were even that close is a testament to our ladies' efforts, as two truly fluky mistakes on the uneven bars (meaning we had to count one of them) provided far more than the margin of defeat.

I'm trying a new format this week that's been spinning around in my head for a little while. The idea is to list the actual scores of the rotation first (in the order they performed) and then provide commentary afterwards, to help clarify what the actual scores were. Let me know if you like it! Here are the results:

1) Vault: 49.400
- Ashlyn Broussard: 9.825
- Lauren Johnson: 9.85
- Gigi Marino: 9.85
- Sydney Snead: 9.825
- Brittany Rogers: 9.925
- Brandie Jay: 9.95

I was late getting to the stream tonight, so I missed the first half of this rotation, but the second half of Snead, Rogers, and Jay were right on. Worthy of note here is that Natalie Vaculik, presumably still recovering from the injury she suffered last week on the bars, was replaced in the vault lineup by Lauren Johnson.  Lauren got a good score, so let's see if Coach Durante chooses to leave her in the vault lineup from here on out. The 49.400 is the 3rd-highest vault rotation we've had this year, so that's also a good sign.

2) Uneven Bars: 49.075
- Sydney Snead: 9.85
- Lauren Johnson: 9.25
- Natalie Vaculik: 9.875
- Rachel Schick: 9.925
- Brandie Jay: 9.85
- Brittany Rogers: 9.575

This was the rotation that did us in tonight. Though, really, since the final margin was so close, practically every stingy judges' score also contributed, such as the 9.85 on Snead's routine that could easily have been a 9.90. Special props to Rachel Schick, as well, who put in the best bars routine I've ever seen from her. Rachel has always looked like she had the potential to put up scores like this regularly, but hasn't been able to do so thus far in her career.

The big downer of the night, though, were the two fluky errors by Lauren Johnson and Brittany Rogers. Lauren was performing on the bars for the first time this season, replacing freshman Gracie Cherrey, who hasn't been great, but has been consistently in the 9.75-9.80 range. Somehow, Lauren actually missed her running mount onto the bars and fell flat on her back right from the start. I don't know that I've ever seen that from a Gym Dog in competition before, and I'm glad she wasn't injured.  To her credit, Lauren got back up and put together a routine that would have gotten a very good score otherwise.  Brittany Rogers, in the anchor leg, somehow flubbed the transition from the upper bar to the lower bar that she has nailed all year. It's a more-difficult-than-required transition, but she's had no problems with it until tonight. She didn't fall, but did land on the lower bar pretty much on her stomach, completely stopped, and had to restart from there, which is why her score was a 9.575. (It's also a very difficult feat to achieve, so credit to Brittany for not completely coming off the bars and having the strength to get going again.) Brittany injured her ankle last week against Alabama and came back to compete tonight in what was probably a bad idea, but I don't see how a bum ankle could have caused this mistake on the bars. Either way, the bottom line is that If either Brittany or Lauren don't make their one really weird, unusual mistake, we win the meet. That's how elite college gymnastics works, though.  You need every routine to be great, and if you have just a couple of mistakes, you lose, even if you put up a really good team score.

3) Balance Beam: 49.250
- Brandie Jay: 9.875
- Natalie Vaculik: 9.75
- Brittany Rogers: 9.75
- Vivi Babalis: 9.775
- Ashlyn Broussard: 9.925
- Mary Beth Box: 9.925

The big difference in tonight's beam routines was that we seemed to have a lot more "fall prevention" ability than in many, many previous meets. The same passes that previously caused many of our ladies to fall still caused them to wobble, sometimes significantly, tonight, but they all managed to keep a hold of themselves and not let the wobbles send them to the floor. That literally made all the difference, as we went from something like a 48.x or a 47.x type of score to a very respectable 49.250, which is our second-highest beam score of the year.  Also, Ashlyn Broussard had a great night, and Mary Beth Box continued her great senior season with another great beam run. I also think Brandie Jay was absolutely robbed of a 9.9, but I tend to think that about a lot of our routines, and I'm a biased observer.

4) Floor Exercise: 49.550
- Sydney Snead: 9.875
- Vivi Babalis: 9.875
- Brittany Rogers: 9.600
- Gigi Marino: 9.95
- Mary Beth Box: 9.925
- Brandie Jay: 9.925

Once again, these Gym Dogs showed that they've got what it takes to put up truly huge numbers in the rotation where almost all of the best teams do so. This lofty rotation score was actually our second-best floor rotation of the year, believe it or not. Personally, I think Snead deserved a 9.90, too, but one judge disagreed with me, so she got a 9.875. Also, I'm 100% convinced that at some point in the next two seasons, current sophomore Gigi Marino will get a 10 on her floor routine. You can write that down in ink. Her power, attitude, and control are all tailor-made for the floor exercise, and she's made huge improvements since the inconsistency of her freshman season.

Lessons learned from tonight:

- Don't come back early from an injury, even if it's senior night and you're a senior. Brittany Rogers rushed herself back from last week's ankle injury so she could compete one more time in Stegeman Coliseum, and because of that, she had one of her worst nights, if not the worst night, of her Gym Dog career. Hers was the score we dropped in 2 events, and her lowest score of the night, a 9.575 on bars, actually counted for us. She did manage a 9.925 on vault, which is remarkable given her ankle situation, but I have to question Danna Durante's decision to let her compete on beam and floor. I know Brittany is a senior and wanted to compete in the All-Around, but the results indicate, to me, that she just wasn't healthy enough to do so. That bars mistake was a fluke, and I don't fault Coach Durante for green-lighting Rogers on that apparatus, but beam and floor just batter your ankle, and senior or not, Brittany should have been held out of those events.  Don't be surprised if she doesn't compete on Sunday against UCLA and Stanford. She needs to get all the way back. We need Brittany Rogers to be at 100% in the postseason for this team to live up to its potential.

- Brandie Jay is a beast. Look, Brandie has pretty much always been the co-number-1 of this team along with Brittany Rogers. But this year, Brandie has shown out in a way you wish and hope for all seniors to do in their final year. Her entire Gym Dog career, Brandie had competed on vault, bars, and floor for the team. Starting with the fourth meet of this season, though (against Mizzou), she got the opportunity to also go out on the beam, making her an All-Around competitor.  Since that night, Brandie has won the individual All-Around title in every meet.  That's 7 All-Around titles in a row, including head-to-head victories over 6 competitors ahead of her in the RQS rankings. (She was ranked 11th in the country coming into tonight.)  Brandie is having a senior year one dreams of, and the best part is, there's still room for improvement.

- I was right: This team can compete for a national championship. I've been unapologetic in my sky-high expectations for this year's team from day one, and tonight's results prove that my statements about their potential are correct. They didn't set a season-high score in any rotation and put up their second-lowest score of the year on bars, but still carded a team score that is higher than the RQS for all but 3 teams in the country. They only lost to Auburn tonight because the Gymgleswomen put up their highest score of the year. Tonight's score wouldn't win a national championship, but it wasn't our best night... merely a pretty good night. If we can keep putting the pieces together over these next few weeks, I still fully believe that the potential is there to have a special postseason.

- I was also right, however, that the lack of consistency we've seen under Coach Durante might kill us. When we're good, we're really, really good. But we've only had one meet all year where we hit on every single rotation (the LSU meet). I specifically invoke Coach Durante's name in that statement because it's an interesting contrast from our previous two coaches. Under Suzanne Yoculan, we were consistently good. (Really good.)  Under Jay Clark, we were consistently mediocre. But under Danna Durante, we seem to fluctuate from one week to the next. We're one of the top 3 or 4 teams in the country one week, and we're not even one of the top 15 the next. And the apparatus on which we've been the most inconsistent is the one that Durante herself coaches: the balance beam.  Mind you, I'm not saying we should fire Danna Durante (yet)... it's just remarkable how consistently inconsistent we seem to be. If we can't nail this down, it could definitely come back to bite us in the postseason.

Overall, it's been an up-and-down year, but we've made the improvements we needed to make over the last few meets to work ourselves into postseason contention. Tonight's result (by Auburn) pretty much ensures that we'll be stuck in the afternoon session at the SEC championships, where the judges condition themselves to give lower scores because they mentally tell themselves that "these are the bad teams," but the SEC Championship is meaningless from a postseason standpoint, anyway.  It's a nice piece of hardware to have in your trophy case, and you can use that score as an "away" score in your RQS if you need it, but it doesn't mean anything towards the big prize. The postseason really starts at the NCAA regionals, and we'll be competing at home for those.  The possibilities are still bright for the postseason, and if we can take care of business at regionals, it'll all come down to the big one on April 15 in Fort Worth, TX.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. We still have 2 more meets left in the regular season, both on the road. The Gym Dogs have a quick turnaround, with their next meet coming up in 2 days, and it will be their only non-dual-meet of the regular season: against UCLA and (for the second time this season) Stanford in Los Angeles, CA. I think having a multi-opponent meet like this gives us great experience, as it allows our team to get accustomed to the format they'll see in the postseason of having more than just 2 apparatuses going at the same time. Also, we'll have a long travel time, which we'll see at the SEC Championships in Arkansas and the NCAA nationals (assuming we get there) in Fort Worth. I'm not crazy about combining the long travel time with a 2-day turnaround, but hey, we don't have any choice in scheduling our non-conference opponents.  (Oh, wait, we do control that.  #FireMcGarity)

The meet vs. UCLA and Stanford will be this Sunday, March 6, at 3:00 PM Eastern time (noon Pacific). The meet will be televised live on the Pac 12 Network. Until then...

Go Dawgs!