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Gym Dogs Overcome Injuries, put up 197.075

With our best performers out, the rest of the team stepped up big-time and scored a season high

Freshman Rachel Dickson, who had a phenomenal night
John Paul Van Wert/UGA Sports Communications

Welcome back, Gym Dog fans! I barely know where to start in this recap of Friday night’s meet. Several “good news, bad news” situations here.

Before the meet even started on Friday, we got word from the UGA Sports Communication team that 3 of our best gymnasts, Sabrina Vega, Sydney Snead, and Natalie Vaculik, were all going to be out of the meet. Vega and Vaculik were listed as being out due to illness, and Snead apparently aggravated her old back injury, and while that wasn’t considered serious, they were holding her out of the meet on a precautionary basis. (Also, they finally officially acknowledged that Natalie Vaculik had some kind of longer-term illness that she’s been recovering from. That was kind of obvious from her absence in the first 4 meets of the season, but it’s always good to get confirmation.)

So far this season, Snead had been our only all-around competitor, so losing her stung on every event. And Sabrina Vega, while just a freshman, is one of our best competitors on beam and floor, in my opinion. So I was prepared for a potentially “down” meet on this night. From the very beginning, with so many missing spots in the roster, it looked like the cards just might not be stacked in our favor tonight against a resurgent Missouri team that is having one of their best seasons ever.

Fortunately, Danna’s Dawgs dug deep down, found some intestinal fortitude that we all hoped might be there, and stepped up in a big way, as they put up their best score of the season to date. In addition, two gymnasts got to compete in the all-around for the first time, and they both acquitted themselves extremely well.

So with that said, let’s get to the event recap:

Rotation 1: Vault - 49.275

Ashlyn Broussard - 9.875
Morgan Reynolds - 9.825
Beth Roberts - 9.825
Rachel Dickson - 9.90
Lauren Johnson - 9.85
Gigi Marino - 9.825

Since Sydney Snead was out tonight, Beth Roberts got the call to fill in for her in the lineup. Beth has only competed in vault once before this season, in the disastrous LSU meet, and she had a pretty disastrous outing on that night. On Friday, however, Beth stepped up and redeemed herself, carding a very respectable 9.825 to contribute to the team’s overall solid score.

Overall, most of these vaults were pretty good, with almost-stuck landings all around, so it was a pretty good performance. Of special note is freshman Rachel Dickson, who scored a 9.90. It’s important to realize that Dickson’s vault, as was the case with all of our vaults this night, had a starting value of 9.95, not 10.0. So a 9.90 means that her vault was almost perfect. (It translates to a 9.95 on a vault with a 10.0 start value.)

Bottom line: Since most of our lineup (except for Snead, who was out) only attempts a vault with a 9.95 starting value, we have to absolutely nail every part of the vault to get to that 9.9 score that we want to be seeing regularly. If we can tighten up even more and 100% stick those landings, we can get there. But this was a very strong showing for this lineup.

Rotation 2: Uneven Bars - 49.225

Hayley Sanders - 9.775
Morgan Reynolds - 9.85
Lauren Johnson - 9.775
Rachel Dickson - 9.925
Rachel Schick - 9.90

If you look closely, you’ll notice that none of the scores above are struck through, which means we didn’t drop any of these scores. That’s because, for reasons known only to Coach Danna Durante, we only competed 5 gymnasts on the uneven bars. There’s nothing in the rulebook that says you must have 6 competitors, only that the maximum is 6, and the 5 highest scores count towards your team total.

I know we have other gymnasts besides Sydney Snead that can compete on bars, so I can’t honestly say why this coaching staff chose to only have 5 competitors tonight, when a single misstep by any competitor would have spelled disaster. Perhaps they wanted to practice some of that “situational gymnastics” that I talked about in my preseason coverage. Or perhaps they felt that the current lineup had some sort of “chemistry” that would be upset by inserting a new face, even though Snead was out. I can’t honestly make any conclusions, because I don’t have any evidence.

Whatever Coach Durante’s motivations, however, the gamble paid off for her in this meet. No gymnasts made any major errors, and Rachel Dickson put on a clinic for how to respond under pressure as a freshman with a sky-high (and career high, for her young career) 9.925. Then the rotation was capped off by another solid 9.90 by our newfound senior stalwart, Rachel Schick, and Danna’s Dawgs had managed a very respectable 49.225 on a night without, arguably, our best performer.

And one more note in closing... I don’t know why some judges love Hayley Sanders and some are incredibly harsh on her. Once again, for like the third meet out of five this season, one judge gave Hayley a 9.85 and the other judge gave her a 9.60. That type of incredibly wide score differential is an eyebrow-raiser if it happens once. For it to happen in virtually every meet, however... something’s going on here, and I don’t know what it is. But it’s absolutely insane that Hayley keeps getting robbed of a very solid score because one judge apparently sees a completely different routine from another. To my eyes, her routine looked like a good, solid 9.85 job. But hell, I’m just a fan, so what do I know?

Hayley Sanders, clearly making major error in chalking up before the bars... or something, I guess.
John Paul Van Wert/UGA Sports Communications

Rotation 3: Balance Beam - 49.075

Morgan Reynolds - 9.825
Hayley Sanders - 9.875
Rachel Dickson - 9.75
Ashlyn Broussard - 9.80
Vivi Babalis - 9.825
Rachel Schick - 9.75

For the balance beam, Coach Durante apparently decided it probably wasn’t a good idea to trot out just 4 gymnasts with Vega and Snead out, so Morgan Reynolds got the first balance beam action of her Gym Dogs career, and Rachel Dickson got a chance to redeem her performance from the first two meets of the season.

We got to see the “return of the moonwalk” on the beam, since Morgan had been awarded the famous beam move that has been passed down from one Gym Dog to another over the years. And Reynolds acquitted herself very well, putting up a solid 9.825 in her first ever competitive collegiate beam routine. Dickson had a pretty major balance break, but that was really the only major flaw in an otherwise-solid routine.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Hayley Sanders again, however. After pretty unremarkable freshman and sophomore seasons, Hayley is really starting to come into her own as a solid contributor for the Gym Dogs on both beam and bars. If she can keep her consistency up, and if we can figure out why half of the bars judges apparently hate her, she could be one of the most pleasant surprises of the 2017 season for Danna’s Dawgs.

Overall, it wasn’t a great rotation, and pretty much all of our competitors other than Sanders had some big bobbles, but nobody fell, and hopefully that will allow us to continue to build our confidence going forward.

And one more thing... if Vivi Babalis can get to the point where she nails both her on-beam routine and her dismount in the same meet... she’s going to be able to have some huge scores. But that consistency is the thing.

Rotation 4: Floor Exercise - 49.500

Morgan Reynolds - 9.90
Beth Roberts - 9.85
Rachel Dickson - 9.95
Vivi Babalis - 9.85
Gigi Marino - 9.95

I ain’t even going to try and make up an excuse for this one... we got a little bit of help from the judges on floor tonight. It’s not at all unusual for the home team to get a little bit of a boost on floor, since the judges seem to frequently be influenced by the enthusiasm of the home crowd. And since the Gym Dog fans are the best in the nation, I don’t doubt that their cheers helped sway an opinion or two.

Don’t misunderstand me; all of these routines were good. When your drop score is 9.85, it’s been a good night. But still, on a re-watch of Gigi Marino’s routine, for example, I can’t help but be impressed that the judges awarded her a 9.95, when 2 of her tumbling passes featured landings that were definitely not perfect.

Still, though, we’re talking about the difference between a 9.90 instead of a 9.95, or a 9.85 instead of a 9.90. Overall, I think with tighter judging, we might have seen a 49.350 or something instead of a 49.500. But the judges always call every meet differently, and on this night, we got some of the calls that we definitely don’t get on other nights. And I ain’t complaining about that, because more often than not, the judges always seem to be screwing us.

So, I’m going to stop half-complaining, take the very-impressive 49.500, and say, “Thank you. Go Dawgs!”

(And in case you didn’t notice, we only ran out 5 gymnasts on floor, as well. No, I don’t know why.)

Conclusion: Georgia Gym Dogs - 197.075, Mizzou Gym Tigers - 196.075

At the end of the night, you can’t deny the excellent result for the team. We got our first score in the 197’s of the season, and we did it on a night where: 1) We still didn’t have our best stuff on every event, and 2) 3 of our best gymnasts were out of the lineup due to injury or illness. And on top of that, Senior Morgan Reynolds and Freshman Rachel Dickson both got their first opportunity to compete in the all-around, and both did a very solid job in that effort. Reynolds carded a 39.4 in her 4 events, but Dickson had a massive night, putting up a 39.525 and winning her first individual all-around meet title.

Coach Danna Durante acknowledged the absence of some of our stars, saying:

[The Gym Dogs] are just fighters. They talk all the time about having each other's back. With it being our pink and green night, we talked in the circle yesterday about who are you competing for? Beyond your teammates. We know you are competing for them, for each other. But beyond that, who are you competing for? I think all of them had somebody. A loved one, a friend and some of them had several people who had passed away from cancer or who had fought that battle. The whole night was about fighting for something greater than ourselves.

So with a substantial portion of the top of our lineup out, and on a night dedicated to the fight against cancers of all kinds, our Gym Dogs found their motivation to step it up and compete at a higher level. I salute their effort, and I love the amount of fight and heart that they showed in this effort.

I can’t help but wonder at Coach Durante’s decision, however, to only compete 5 ladies on both bars and floor. In particular, I know Jasmine Arnold, who has been a perennial bench-warmer for the previous 2 years, has been trying to break in on floor. So why would tonight not be a chance to give her a run-out? And did we really only have 5 ladies who can put up a competition-worthy bars performance?

One misstep on either bars or floor would have spelled disaster for the Gym Dogs tonight. But in the face of that adversity, the team stepped up, and we actually didn’t have any falls or major faults on any routine in any event. That’s a major step forward for the team, but I wonder if the “adversity” was somewhat manufactured by the coaches. Those gambles by the coaches paid off tonight. But will they benefit us in the long run? Only time will tell.

For tonight, though, the Gym Dogs emerged victorious, put up their highest score of the season to date, and helped improve their ranking further. (Don’t even ask about our actual ranking right now, though. That egg we laid against LSU in week 1 will drag our ranking down until RQS becomes the official ranking mechanism in a few weeks. Right now, if you dump the LSU meet score, we’d be about 6th in the country. In reality, though, we’re currently 10th.)

The Gym Dogs will conclude their 4-meet homestand this coming Friday, February 3, in Stegeman Coliseum against the 9th-ranked Kentucky Gym Cats. The meet will start at 7:00 PM and will be televised live on the SEC Network. This will be your last chance to see the Gym Dogs competing in the Classic City until March, so if you’re in the area, come out and cheer on Danna’s Dawgs as they keep building up to the postseason!

Until then...

Go Dawgs!