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#7 Gym Dogs lose to #1 Oklahoma, 196.925-197.675

An up and down night for the UGA Gymnastics team meant that we couldn’t hang with the best team in the country.

Freshman Sabrina Vega, who had herself a night
Cory Cole/UGA Sports Communications

Welcome back, Gym Dog fans! After an unfortunate week-long hiatus for your favorite UGA Gymnastics blogger at Dawg Sports, we return to your regularly-scheduled Gym Dogs regular season meet recap.

Tonight, for the second week in a row, the Gym Dogs faced off against the newest perennial powerhouse in college gymnastics, the #1-ranked Oklahoma Gym Sooners. (Gymooners? Gym ‘Ners? Whatever.) And unfortunately, for the second week in a row, the national champions from 2 of the past 3 seasons put on a clinical display to drive home the fact that, even on a “down night” for the #1 team in the country, our UGA squad just hasn’t yet climbed back to the very top tier of the college gymnastics world.

But I suppose I shouldn’t get too dour. There were some extremely positive points on the night, and some... well, not so positive ones. So let’s get to the rotation recap.

Rotation 1: Uneven Bars - 49.125

Morgan Reynolds - 9.85
Hayley Sanders - 9.725
Lauren Johnson - 9.80
Sydney Snead - 9.85
Rachel Dickson - 9.75
Rachel Schick - 9.875

First off, as a reminder, to ensure we make the Super Six at the end of the year, our goal is to be scoring in the mid 197’s range consistently. In order to do that, we need to put up a rotation score of 49.300 or better in every single rotation. (49.300 in every rotation would be 197.200, which is not exactly mid 197’s, but which would still be a season-high score for us at this point.) So, by that metric, you can see that we fell well short of that goal. By comparison, Oklahoma put up 49.400 in their first rotation on vault.

And not only that, but it was the same problems that keep hitting us so regularly on bars: handstands and dismounts. Our handstands were just not consistently vertical, and we stuck far too few of our landings on the dismount. That’s an issue you’d think could be resolved with coaching and repetition in practice, but we’re sitting here with just 2 meets left in the regular season. It’s not the time to be coaching ‘em up, it’s the time to be putting the final polishes on your form.

And our drop scores need to be the ones in the 9.80 range, not a 9.725. I love Hayley Sanders, and she has a fierce fighter’s heart, but she absolutely must be more consistent here. Rachel Dickson basically had one off night with a bad release move and dismount, so you can pretty much excuse that, but Hayley needs to be consistently in that 9.8 range again.

Rotation 2: Vault - 49.175

Ashlyn Broussard - 9.825
Beth Roberts - 9.80
Lauren Johnson - 9.75
Gigi Marino - 9.75
Rachel Dickson - 9.85
Sydney Snead - 9.95

Once again, we fell short of the 49.300 goal as a team. (Oklahoma pulled further ahead here by carding a huge 49.500 on bars during this rotation.) But Sydney Snead did have a magnificent vault, nearly flawlessly executing her Yurchenko 1.5 vault. And I’ll give Gigi Marino a one-time pass, as well, since she tried the 1.5Y tonight, and hopefully she’ll have it tightened up even more by next week.

The Yurchenko 1.5 vault is notable because it has a 10.0 start value. All of our other gymnasts do a Yurchenko full (with 1 full twist, not 1.5), which has a 9.95 start value. And as I’ve covered in previous recaps, the 9.95 start value isn’t terrible, if you can absolutely nail the vault. It just makes it a lot harder to consistently get those 9.9-level scores, because your vault has to be that much more perfect... and ours aren’t.

So, it’s concerning that we can’t consistently stick our landings and get 9.85’s or better across the board here. Because that’s where we need to be.

Rotation 3: Floor Exercise - 49.300

Morgan Reynolds - 9.80
Beth Roberts - 9.80
Vivi Babalis - 9.80
Sabrina Vega - 9.875
Rachel Dickson - 9.875
Gigi Marino - 9.95

We did hit the 49.300 goal on floor tonight, in spite of a slow start from our first 3 gymnasts. All 3 of our final gymnasts really brought a great performance, though, and Gigi Marino’s epic work was undeniable, even in a hostile venue with judges that aren’t giving you the “home cookin’” scores. Oklahoma continued to pull away from us, however, putting up a 49.450 on beam during this rotation.

The most notable absence on both floor and beam tonight was Sydney Snead, who is still coming back from a re-aggravated back injury. And I fully agree with the coaches’ decision not to push her back too early, because it’s most important to have Snead ready for the postseason. But still, we missed her performance, and the probable high score that would have come with it.

Even without Snead, though, we are capable of a huge score on floor. Sabrina Vega would have had a score just as high as Gigi’s if she hadn’t flubbed her first pass a little bit, and Rachel Dickson already has a 9.95 floor score to her name this season. And Vivi is capable of getting into the 9.9 range, too. We have the talent there to get the huge scores. We just have to have everybody put it together at the same time.

Finally, Jordyn Pedersen got the first action of her Gym Dog career tonight, getting the nod to perform an exhibition routine on floor. (Teams are allowed to have one extra competitor perform purely as an exhibition routine at the end of the rotation if they choose to do so.) Jordyn had a really solid routine going, too, until she completely missed the landing on her final pass and stumbled out of bounds. Pedersen was a pretty heralded freshman coming into this class, so it’s been a little bit of a mystery why we haven’t seen her before now... but perhaps the routine tonight showed a little bit of that reason why (lack of consistency on her tumbling passes, ostensibly).

Rotation 4: Balance Beam - 49.325

Sabrina Vega - 9.90
Hayley Sanders - 9.775
Rachel Dickson - 9.875
Ashlyn Broussard - 9.90
Vivi Babalis - 9.875
Rachel Schick - 9.225

Yes, Gym Dog fans, you are reading that score correctly... balance beam was the highest-scoring rotation we had tonight. We again met the 49.300 mark, and slightly surpassed it, even though we had to count Hayley Sanders’ 9.775 score after normally-rock-solid senior Rachel Schick fell on her anchor routine. (And I’m not going to claim that Sanders was robbed or anything, but I felt a 9.80 score would have been fair. The judges just never give our girl the benefit of the doubt in any circumstance. Like, ever.)

Sabrina Vega started off the rotation in the best possible way, with an absolutely solid performance that deserved every single hundredth of that 9.90 that she received. Ashlyn Broussard, who bumped Morgan Reynolds out of the lineup to claim her spot, also came up huge with her own 9.9. Ash’s skills have, quite frankly, always been better and higher-scoring than Morgan’s, but Ash has a tendency to be inconsistent far too often. If she can regain that confidence and consistency, we could have something really great on our hands.

If Sydney Snead can rehab in time and get back into the beam lineup, there’s no reason our beam scores can’t stay this high, and maybe even inch their way higher.

(And since I have mentioned OU’s scores in every rotation thus far, they actually had an uncharacteristically poor night on floor, where they had two gymnasts step out of bounds on a routine, so they had to count one of those scores. As a result, they “only” carded a 49.325 in their final rotation. Or, to put it another way, their worst rotation score of the night was tied with our best.)

Conclusion: Georgia Gym Dogs 196.925, Oklahoma Gym Sooners 197.675

Look, coming into this meet, no rational third-party observer would ever claim that this edition of the Gym Dogs is as good as this edition of the Gym ‘Ners or whatever they call themselves. Still, it’s disappointing to be reminded so vividly and on live (web streaming) television that UGA is just not in another team’s league.

I mean, there aren’t many teams that are in Oklahoma’s league. There are really only 3, maybe 4 teams that have a legitimate shot to win the national championship this year, so they’re the Tier 1. Tier 2 is probably the next 4-5 teams, and Georgia is one of those Tier 2 teams. So, we have a legitimate shot to once again make the Super Six, but expecting anything better than a 6th or maybe 5th place finish in that NCAA final is probably expecting too much from this squad.

Of course, we do still miss Sydney Snead on beam and floor, and if Natalie Vaculik can ever get back to being fully healthy, she will be a sorely-needed boost to our bars lineup. But those nagging injuries don’t just get better overnight, and you can’t rely on a recovery to happen in time (or that the gymnast will be 100% on the apparatus they haven’t been healthy enough to perform on for weeks and weeks).

Perhaps I’m coming across as a little too negative, and I don’t really mean to sound that tone. I like to use the data at hand to set realistic expectations going forward, and I’m really just calling the situation as I see it. But there is some hope there to improve somewhat. If we can get Vaculik back and tighten up some of the other bars routines, we can get bars into that 49.300 range. It’s not that huge a step. And I firmly believe we can sustain that 49.300+ clip on beam and floor. As for vault... well, vault might just be our problem child for the year. We’re just flat-out not good enough as an entire team on vault.

But if we can start getting into that 197.2 or 197.3 range, and do it when it counts in the postseason, we can certainly achieve our basic, #1 goal that every Gym Dog team has every season: to make the Super Six. It’s within our grasp, and we can absolutely do it.

Before we get too lost in postseason conjecture, though, Danna’s Dawgs still have 2 regular season meets left, and they’re biggies... both against major historical rivals of ours.

The Gym Dogs’ next meet will be against our biggest rival, the Alabama Gym Tide. The meet will be on Sunday, March 5 (note: Sunday, not Friday), in Stegeman Coliseum, and will start at 2:00 PM. The meet will be televised live on the SEC Network.

Alabama, in my mind is probably in that “tier 2” tier of team with us, though they’re on the cusp of being a tier 1 team if they can put it all together for a meet. With a ravenous crowd full of Gym Dog fans cheering our ladies on, however, I think we can take these Gym Tiders down, and put up a season-high score in the process. Oh, how sweet that would be to blast through the 197 mark, defeating our biggest rival in the process. Why don’t you come on down to the Steg next Sunday and help make it a reality?

Until then...

Go Dawgs!