The 16th-ranked Georgia gymnastics team came into Friday evening’s meet against the Arkansas Gymbacks on a roll, having won two straight meets and having improved their score steadily since the unmitigated disaster we saw in week 1.
Unfortunately, tonight Danna’s Dawgs took a step back. Even though we pummeled our competition, a combination of sloppy routines and incredibly tight judging meant that we barely scraped by with a score that will not help our ranking as compared to the top 5 or 6 teams in the country.
There are two potential explanations for our under-performing score: super-tight judging, and fatigue from having 3 meets in 8 days. But I’ll delve into those a little bit more in my conclusion. First, let’s get to the rotation-by-rotation recap:
Rotation 1: Vault - 49.25
Ashlyn Broussard - 9.775
Morgan Reynolds - 9.825
Rachel Dickson - 9.85
Lauren Johnson - 9.875
Gigi Marino - 9.80
Sydney Snead - 9.90
The Gym Dogs started off with a solid, if not stellar, vault rotation. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, there were just not enough stuck landings. Tight judging was also an issue here, as Lauren Johnson did stick her landing and got a 9.90 from one judge, but the second judge only saw a 9.85, so Lauren received the 9.875.
Another issue with our vaults is that 5 of our 6 gymnasts perform a vault called the “Yurchenko full,” which is extremely common in college gymnastics. Starting last year, however, the NCAA downgraded that vault to a 9.95 start value. So even if you perfectly nail the Yurchenko full, you get a 9.95. This means that a 9.9-quality performance on a vault with a 10.0 start value (like a Yurchenko one-and-a-half, which Sydney Snead does) would only be a 9.85 on a Yurchenko full.
And you know what? If we were getting 9.9’s and 9.95’s with the Yurchenko full vaults, that would be just fine. But we’re getting 9.7’s and low 9.8’s with the Yurchenko full. It’s problematic and troubling that we don’t have gymnasts who can do the 10.0 value vaults, because it suggests they can’t do the Yurchenko full at an extremely high level on a consistent basis, either.
To be one of the 6 best teams in the country at the end of the year, we need a high score on every rotation... in the 49.3+ range on every single apparatus. We’re not going to get there by pittering and puttering on these Yurchenko fulls. We need to nail those damn things if we’re going to do them.
Rotation 2: Uneven bars - 48.975
Hayley Sanders - 9.725
Morgan Reynolds - 9.75
Lauren Johnson - 9.675
Rachel Dickson - 9.85
Rachel Schick - 9.825
Sydney Snead - 9.825
I have to give the Gym Dogs somewhat of a pass on bars tonight, because I have never seen a more ticky-tack, tight-ass judging job on bars than I’ve seen tonight, even at a NCAA national championship meet.
Just look at Hayley Sanders as your example. Once again, for the second week in a row, Hayley led off the Gym Dogs with a very solid, well-performed routine. There was a deduction here and there (she slightly missed two handstands and had a very small hop on the dismount), but she got absolutely shafted by one of the judges. To my eyes, she earned about a 9.80 or 9.85, depending on how much you deduct for the hop and the handstands. One judge gave Hayley a 9.80, and the second judge gave her a 9.65. Seriously? A 9.65? So because the Soviet judge obviously blinked at the wrong time and missed something, Sanders only got a score of 9.725.
These judges didn’t screw the rest of our gymnasts quite as badly (though they did completely rob Rachel Dickson of the first 9.9+ of her career), but the deductions all night on bars (even for Arkansas) were just super mega-tight.
And you might say, “Ok, well, so what? They called it tight for both sides.” Yes, but we were not just competing against Arkansas tonight, nor are we ever just competing against one opponent. Every score for every meet counts in the rankings, and potentially can count in our RQS score that determines our postseason position. When you draw the unlucky Soviet judge for a meet, it can screw your night, your team score, your ranking, and your team’s confidence going forward.
But let’s not get too melodramatic... after all, we kind of screwed ourselves in week 1 and we bounced back. So let’s see how the team did when we moved on to the balance beam.
Rotation 3: Balance Beam - 48.725
Sabrina Vega - 9.80
Hayley Sanders - 9.825
Sydney Snead - 9.575
Ashlyn Broussard - 8.825
Vivi Babalis - 9.675
Rachel Schick - 9.85
Ok, well, judging was pretty tight again on beam, but we still put in a pretty poor rotation, no matter who was doing the judging. Ashlyn Broussard just straight-up missed the beam on one of her passes and fell. And Sydney Snead had large bobble in an otherwise excellent routine, though it looks like the judges credited her with a major almost-fall kind of break (which was very harsh).
Everything wasn’t completely doom and gloom, though. Vivi Babalis’ routine was actually very good... until she almost sat down on her dismount. For the second meet in a row. (Perhaps it’s time for Vivi to try a less challenging dismount on beam while she perfects this one?) And Sabrina Vega definitely deserved better than a 9.8 in my book. And once again, the Soviet judge dinged Hayley Sanders, when one judge gave her a 9.85, but the second judge only saw a 9.80.
So overall, several judging decisions went against us, but we still need to be much tighter. We have the routines to score big... we just have to hit them.
Rotation 4: Floor Exercise - 49.300
Morgan Reynolds - 9.825
Beth Roberts - 9.15
Vivi Babalis - 9.85
Sabrina Vega - 9.875
Sydney Snead - 9.85
Gigi Marino - 9.90
Overall, I think the scores were probably more fair for floor than any other event tonight, though they were still pretty tightly-judged. (For example, I would like to hear a justification from the one judge who refused to give Sabrina Vega a 9.9.) Overall, we didn’t have to count a score lower than 9.825, so even though we only got 1 score in the 9.9 range, we still carded a very nice 49.300 on this rotation.
And really, that shows you what it takes to really put up huge scores in gymnastics. Every gymnast had a mid-to-high 9.8 score except Gigi Marino, and we got a very solid floor total. If you bump 1 or two more gymnasts up to the 9.9 range, and bump one or more to a 9.95... then you’re talking championship-caliber. We need this kind of consistency across the board, and true excellence from our top 2 or 3 competitors. That would get us where we need to be.
Conclusion: Georgia 196.250, Arkansas 195.000
Look, we were out of Arkansas’ league tonight, which is exactly as it should be. We’re not competing to be better than Arkansas. We’re competing to be better than Alabama, who scored 197.225 tonight. We’re competing to be better than LSU, who scored 197.525 tonight. And we’re competing to be better than Florida, who scored 197.325 tonight.
Right now, we’re not as good as any of those teams. But I don’t think that has to be the final answer on the season. If we can tighten up our routines and start consistently hitting them, we can be in the same conversation with the top 5 or 6 teams in the country... but we’re not there yet.
So why did we dip tonight, after improving on Friday and Monday? Well, part of that might be the short rest. Performing at a top level 3 times in 8 days is certainly fatiguing, but that’s not the gymnasts’ fault... the blame must fall on the coaches. They can’t change the challenging schedule, but Coach Durante can, and should, choose to change the lineup if she sees that some of her gymnasts are more fatigued than normal. Cut out an event or two for some of our multi-event performers and give someone else on the team a chance to step up. One would think that’s part of the reason we have so many meets packed into a short time-frame early in the season, anyway.
There’s no question that super-tight judging played a factor, as well. But it wasn’t the whole story. Good judging might have bumped us up as much as half a point or so, but that would still leave us at 196.750. We absolutely must get into the 197 range, and with regularity. 197 shouldn’t be an aspirational goal... it should be the minimum goal of every single meet.
So, there’s a lot of improvement to be accomplished. But I honestly think we have the personnel that can do it. They just have to... you know, do it.
The Gym Dogs’ next meet will be against the Missouri Tigers, next Friday, January 27, again at home in Stegeman Coliseum. The meet will start at 7:00 PM, and it will be streamed live online at ESPN3.com via the SEC Network+ programming package.