If, on Sunday morning, you'd have predicted that the 10th-ranked Georgia Gym Dogs would finish in second place at the UCLA tri-meet against the #7 Bruins and the #16 Stanford Cardinal, that would have been an entirely reasonable prediction. And technically, you'd have been correct, but the path by which UGA came to reach that position was entirely unorthodox. In many ways, the Gym Dogs had a poor day on all but one event. But they still finished with a 197.025, defeating UCLA by two-tenths of a point. Unfortunately for us, Stanford put in their best meet of the year by far, finishing with a 197.400, which beat their previous season-best score by more than seven-tenths of a point.
The results of each rotation are below. Note that because this was a meet with 3 teams instead of the 2 to which we've become accustomed, the rotation schedule was different. It helps me to visualize it by designating the 4 apparatuses by number; with vault=1, uneven bars=2, balance beam=3, and floor exercise=4. In a dual meet (with just 2 teams), the home team goes in the order 1, 2, 3, 4; while the away team goes 2, 1, 4, 3. However, in the postseason, whichever apparatus you start on, you continue in numerical progression and then wrap around back to the beginning and complete the progression. This postseason format is the format the meet followed today. So UGA started on the bars, event 2, and progressed 2, 3, 4, 1; or bars, beam, floor, and vault. Here are the results:
Rotation 1 - Uneven Bars: 49.15
- Sydney Snead: 9.80
- Lauren Johnson: 9.725
- Natalie Vaculik: 9.70
- Rachel Schick: 9.80
- Brandie Jay: 9.90
- Brittany Rogers: 9.925
For the third meet in a row, fully half the Gym Dogs' lineup seemed to have somehow lost their mojo on bars. It felt like our first three competitors couldn't figure out how to do a completely vertical handstand, and Natalie Vaculik nearly ended up on her backside on the dismount. Also, Coach Durante put Lauren Johnson into the lineup on Friday to replace Gracie Cherrey, and over these last 2 meets, Johnson has yet to surpass any score Cherrey has received on bars all season long. With all that in mind, Rachel Schick's routine looked better than a 9.80 to me. Her handstands were better, and she only had a tiny hop on her dismount. But I'm just a fan, and I'm biased, so I'm probably wrong. Brandie Jay and Brittany Rogers were both back in prime form, however, and gave their usual outstanding performances. Still, for a team effort, it was decidedly below what we expect from the uneven bars, which was one of our best events earlier this season.
In their first rotations, UCLA scored a 49.375 on vault, a season high for them, and Stanford put up a 49.375 on the beam, a season high for them. An inauspicious start, to be sure.
Rotation 2 - Balance Beam: 49.175
- Brandie Jay: 9.35
- Natalie Vaculik: 9.85
- Brittany Rogers: 9.825
- Vivi Babalis: 9.65
- Ashlyn Broussard: 9.90
- Mary Beth Box: 9.95
As it seems like Danna Durante does practically every meet now, the beam lineup was once again reordered, with Brandie Jay leading off the event. Unfortunately, Brandie gave her first poor performance of the year on the beam. She didn't fall, but she did have 3 major "almost-falls," and she actually hand-checked (touched) the beam on one of those wobbles, so all that together basically added up to a fall in her 9.35 score.
Fortunately, all of our other competitors responded with nerves of steel, as you hope your ladies will do when the pressure is on. Natalie Vaculik, in particular, gave a very impressive showing, competing right after Brandie's foible and doing so with great strength and composure. Vivi Bablis had a bobble on her intended connection series, and tried to add an extra flip to provide the connection, but the judges apparently didn't give her credit for it with a 9.65. Mary Beth Box just powered through her routine very, very impressively, deserving every dang tenth of that 9.95; and I think we can declare that Ashlyn Broussard has officially shaken off the early-season jitters to return to the role of "solid beam contributor" that she had last season. (Of course, I probably just jinxed her by saying that.)
Overall, though, we had to count that 9.65, and while that's nowhere close to as bad as counting a fall, it still limited us to a 49.175 total on the beam.
We actually gained ground on UCLA, though, who only managed a 49.025 on their bars rotation, but we lost ground to Stanford, who put up a 49.25 on floor. So, we were still in third place at the halfway mark of the meet.
Rotation 3 - Floor Exercise: 49.175
- Sydney Snead: 9.75
- Vivi Babalis: 9.75
- Morgan Reynolds: 9.825
- Gigi Marino: 9.90
- Mary Beth Box: 9.95
- Brandie Jay: 9.75
The biggest story, to me, in this rotation was the return to competition of Athens native Morgan Reynolds. Morgan was inserted into the lineup in place of Brittany Rogers, who is recovering from an ankle injury. Nobody from UGA, to my knowledge, has mentioned her story, but apparently Morgan contracted a severe E.coli infection that was considered career-threatening for a while. She fought back hard, however, and she put in a very solid showing tonight. To be honest, I think her tumbling passes were still kind of in "early season form," but that's understandable, and it can be improved. Her choreography, though, is the best on the team, in my opinion. I was dazzled by Morgan's routine to the point where it made me wonder if she has a different choreographer than the rest of our team does. We could use more routines like Morgan's... she even got the UCLA crowd into her routine with the great choreography. (The UCLA crowd apparently loved Mary Beth Box, too, but I think it's scientifically impossible not to love her.)
It's tempting to wonder what could have been in this rotation, since Sydney Snead and Brandie Jay both stepped out of bounds on their final tumbling passes, which is a mandatory one-tenth deduction, but both still got a 9.75. So that could have been 9.85's for both, and a final rotation score of 49.375 instead of 49.175. That wouldn't have been enough to pass Stanford, but it would have made our score that much higher for RQS (ranking) purposes.
In their third rotation, UCLA had to count a fall on beam, so although they had a beam performer score a perfect 10 (Danusia Francis, whose combination-side-dismount has to be seen to be believed), they only put up a team score of 48.950. Stanford had a strong vault rotation of 49.250 to widen their lead over both teams, but UCLA's poor beam score allowed us to pass them for second place.
Rotation 4 - Vault: 49.525
- Ashlyn Broussard: 9.875
- Lauren Johnson: 9.85
- Gigi Marino: 9.90
- Sydney Snead: 9.875
- Brittany Rogers: 10.0 PERFECT TEN
- Brandie Jay: 9.875
After the first three rotations, I was a little glum, but I figured most of our errors tonight could be ascribed to fatigue caused by a combination of a short 2-day turnaround (one-and-a-half days, really) and a long cross-country flight during that time (and I do still believe that's likely the case, especially on floor). But in this vault rotation, we saw something we haven't seen a Gym Dog do since Suzanne Yoculan was prowling the sidelines in her stilettos.
Brittany Rogers scored a perfect 10 on the vault.
Now, I've made the argument that Brandie Jay, in particular was robbed of a 10 earlier this year, and the Pac 12 Network announcers were complaining earlier in the meet that UCLA's Sadiqua Bynum was robbed of a 10 on her vault. (And Bynum's vault was, in fact, extremely well-executed, and practically flawless to my eyes.) But there's a difference between "should have gotten a 10" and "did get a 10." And no Gym Dog has gotten a 10 on the vault since the great Courtney Kupets in Suzanne Yoculan's final season in 2009. The last 10 that any Gym Dog has gotten on any apparatus was in Jay Clark's first season of 2010, when then-senior Grace Taylor got a 10 on the balance beam. So it can be truly said that this was the first 10 scored by any Gym Dog that wasn't coached by Suzanne Yoculan for most of her career.
It should be noted that the rest of the team did extremely well, also, and the Gym Dogs didn't have to count a score lower than 9.875 in their vault rotation. That's a great, great statistic, and it provided a huge lift to our final score. That 49.525 is our highest vault rotation of the season, and coincidentally, our second-highest vault score of the season (49.500) also game against Stanford, when we faced them in a dual meet in Athens earlier this season. So, for some reason, we really ratchet up our vault game when we play Stanford. Good to note for future reference.
So, at the end of the day, we broke the 197 barrier for the third time, and defeated a team ahead of us in the rankings. Unfortunately, the team below us in the rankings had their best day of the year and beat us convincingly, as well... but perhaps that's not so unfortunate after all. It serves as a reminder that even on a day when we saw greatness in one area, we still have a lot of improvements to make in the other 3 areas, as well. Neither of our opponents are ranked in the top 6 in the country, and our score of 197.025 would probably not get us into the Super Six at nationals. We need to be aiming for the 197.2 range at the very least to get into the finals.
With all that said, it's hard to complain too much, since this team faced a 1.5-day turnaround from our last meet, which neither of our opponents had, and also had to fly cross-country during that 1.5-day turnaround, which neither of our opponents had to do. Today's meet was an uneven playing field, and we still came out and put up a solid overall score. It would have been nicer to get a few extra tenths here and there, but it's not the end of the world.
This week is spring break week at UGA, and the Gym Dogs' next meet is at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on this coming Saturday, so the team is going to stay out west for the entire week. They'll be training at various locations in Los Angeles and Salt Lake City, and hopefully getting in a little R&R time to see some of the great sights, especially in Utah. (For my money, give me the northeastern Great Basin over southern California any day of the week.)
The Gym Dogs will be taking on the Red Rocks of Utah this Saturday, March 12, at 7:00 PM Eastern time. The meet will be televised live on the Pac 12 Network.