Everything pretty much went according to plan in the NCAA Gymnastics Athens regional on Saturday afternoon, with the top two seeds LSU and Georgia finishing in the top two places to advance to the NCAA national meet. And even though both teams underperformed relative to their RQS rankings, they had very good scores compared to the other regional competitions, which were all going on at the same time. LSU finished with the second-highest score of any team in any regional on the day with a 197.300, and Georgia finished 5th-highest with a 196.850.
The only thing that really mattered, though, was that we finished in the top two in Athens, so we're going on to nationals. That was today's goal, and that goal was accomplished. We didn't put up great scores, honestly, but the judging is only going to get tighter from here, so we'd better get used to it. Fortunately, the chips have fallen in our favor when it comes to pairings in Fort Worth, but we'll get to that in a moment, First, let's look at our performance in this meet.
The Gym Dogs started the meet on the Balance Beam, so that's where I'll start the rotation-by-rotation recap. Because there were 6 teams competing on 4 events, there were six rotations, with two scheduled byes for each team. Each team had a bye rotation between beam and floor, and a bye rotation between vault and bars. (This meant that some teams actually started or ended on a bye rotation, though Georgia didn't.) Here are the results for Danna's Dawgs:
Rotation 1) Balance Beam: 49.025
- Brandie Jay: 9.75
- Natalie Vaculik: 9.10 (fall)
- Brittany Rogers: 9.825
- Vivi Babalis: 9.675 (big wobble)
- Ashlyn Broussard: 9.90
- Mary Beth Box: 9.875
The beam has been a huge thorn in our side all year, so it was just as well that we started off the meet on it. That way, we'd know from the very beginning whether we were likely to advance or crash out. Counting any fall on any apparatus will likely mean your exit from the competition at the NCAA level, as #7 Michigan found out in their regional. And every Dawg fan was naturally holding their breath after Natalie Vaculik fell on just the second routine. Fortunately, all the ladies after Vaculik came up big, and Vivi managed to stay on the beam when she ran into trouble. The rotation score of 49.025 won't be anything you hang banners for, but it was good enough on this day. We didn't have to count a fall, and we put up a decent score in a pressure-filled meet. We'll want to do better in Fort Worth, obviously, but this effort was good enough on this night.
Rotation 2) Bye
Rotation 3) Floor Exercise: 49.300
- Morgan Reynolds: 9.85
- Vivi Babalis: 9.275 (fall)
- Brittany Rogers: 9.80
- Gigi Marino: 9.90
- Mary Beth Box: 9.85
- Brandie Jay: 9.90
After making it through the beam relatively unscathed, Morgan Reynolds started us out on floor with a great routine, which had to be just about perfect to score that high, considering she wasn't doing the highest-difficulty tumbling passes. Then Vivi Babalis had an uncharacteristic fall during her exercise, just basically flopping onto her backside at the end of one of her tumbling passes. It wasn't a very good night for Vivi, but hopefully she'll be able to pick it up in the next meet.
Fortunately, our usual stalwarts came through strongly, with Gigi Marino and Brandie Jay putting up that big 9.90 number, and a solid 9.85 being put up by Mary Beth Box, too. That 49.300 is lower than we'd like to see at nationals, but as with pretty much every rotation this week, it was "good enough." It got us there, and now we have to get better.
Rotation 4) Vault: 49.275
- Ashlyn Broussard: 9.875
- Natalie Vaculik: 9.775
- Gigi Marino: 9.825
- Brittany Rogers: 9.90
- Brandie Jay: 9.85
- Lauren Johnson: 9.825
This was a pretty good vault rotation, but like every other rotation we had tonight, we can do better, and we must do better in Fort Worth. We didn't have to count a score lower than 9.825, but we need more stuck landings, and we need more 9.9's going forward. (And those 9.9's will come with the sticks.)
Rotation 5) Bye
Rotation 6) Uneven Bars: 49.250
- Natalie Vaculik: 9.825
- Gracie Cherrey: 9.80
- Rachel Schick: 9.85
- Brandie Jay 9.95
- Brittany Rogers: 9.825
- Lauren Johnson: 9.775
For some reason, we've had a mental problem on bars during the last few weeks of the season, but we mostly overcame that tonight. Brandie Jay's performance, quite frankly, could have been a 10, but for our gymnasts other than Brandie, we basically had the same problems as usual, with handstands not being vertical and landings not being stuck. Those things can be fixed... but right now, this moment is the time to fix them.
In case you're wondering what every handstand should look like on the uneven bars, Brandie Jay was courteous enough to give us an example. Photo Credit: UGA Sports Communications/Emily Selby
Final Scores for every team:
LSU - 197.300 (Q)
Georgia - 196.850 (Q)
Oregon State - 196.000
Arizona - 195.900
GW - 195.550
Michigan State - 195.350
Q - Qualifies for nationals
So, if you're paying attention to those lineups, you'll notice one name that is conspicuously absent: our star freshman, Sydney Snead. According to Coach Danna Durante in her post-meet interview, Sydney was "a little sore," so she was held out of competition completely. Her normal positions on vault and bars were filled by Lauren Johnson, and her floor spot was filled by Brittany Rogers. And though I think Brittany can do better than her 9.8 on floor if she has a little more advance notice in Fort Worth, I don't think we can effectively fill the hold Sydney leaves on vault and bars. Lauren Johnson, to be perfectly blunt, just hasn't proven that she's up to the task of performing at an elite level this year. I hope I'm 100% wrong, and that I have to eat those words if Sydney can't compete in Fort Worth, but at this point I'm just calling it like I see it.
Also, I can't help but try to read between the lines a little bit. Coach Durante said Snead was just "a little sore," but this is the NCAA regional meet. If you don't perform well here, you go home, so it's all-hands-on-deck in most situations. I suspect that Snead was more than "just a little sore," and that makes me worried for our next meet. According to Red & Black reporter Emily Giambalvo, Snead's old back injury (from last year, before she was a Gym Dog) is flaring up, and it's quite common for freshmen to "wear down" as the season rolls on. Will Snead be able to recover? And if she's pretty much the same as this week, will she push herself to perform in Fort Worth, only to come up well below the standards we've come to expect from her? Who knows... but it's something about which we can wring our hands for two weeks, and that's really what we Dawg fans need at the end of the day, isn't it?
Either way, get well soon, Sydney. Everybody wants to see you back at 100% and doing your best at nationals!
And speaking of nationals, there's good news on that front, too. We've managed to luck out with our seeding, and the semifinal session in which we're competing is definitely the easier one. Here are the lineups for the two semifinal sessions (as a reminder, they are completely separate - the top 3 finishers from each session advance to the Super Six):
In our session, Florida, LSU, and Auburn are ranked ahead of us, but basically, all we have to do is beat Auburn to advance to the Super Six. Stanford and Minnesota are practically also-rans, which means they'd need their best meets of the year to hope to finish in the top 3. (Though it is worth noting that Stanford is ranked below us, but they've beaten us twice this season. We need a little payback here.)
Contrast that to Session 2, which includes Oklahoma, Bama, Utah, and UCLA... we'd be facing a tall order against these teams to finish in the top 3. Add on top of that the fact that Michigan (which would have been in our bracket) didn't even make nationals, and the path is laid out before us. We just have to rise up and get it done.
The national semifinals will be held in Fort Worth, TX, on April 15, which is two Fridays from now. The Gym Dogs will be competing in Session 1, which starts at 1:00 PM Central Time (2:00 Eastern). If Danna's Dawgs finish in the top 3 in that session, they'll be competing in the Super Six again the next day, 4/16, starting at 8:00 PM Central time (9:00 Eastern). Unfortunately, I have a personal commitment and won't be able to report on the national meet, but the Dawg Sports staff will pick up my slack and put out a recap after those meets.
See y'all in Texas...