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Gym Dogs close regular season with a bang, take down #5 Utah

The Gym Dogs scored a W over their highest-ranked opponent on Saturday, defeating rival Utah 197.250-196.650

Gigi Marino celebrating her 9.95 floor performance
Cory A. Cole/UGA Sports Communications

Welcome back, Gym Dog fans! The Georgia gymnastics team closed out their regular season on Saturday evening in Stegeman Coliseum, and they did it with a solid victory against one of our oldest intersectional rivals, the Utah Red Rocks. Between our two programs, UGA and Utah have combined for 19 national championships; more than every other college program put together. And even beyond that, this was the first meet this season where Danna’s Dawgs finally beat a team that was supposed to be “better” than us. So while the performance on an event-by-event basis was a little mixed, there’s no question that our ladies ended the regular season on a high note.

Let’s get right to the rotation recaps:

Rotation 1: Vault - 49.375

Ashlyn Broussard - 9.775
Morgan Reynolds - 9.90
Lauren Johnson - 9.90
Gigi Marino - 9.85
Rachel Dickson - 9.85
Sydney Snead - 9.875
Beth Roberts (exhibition)

Danna’s Dawgs put up a season high on vault, an in doing so, they showed us pretty much exactly what I’ve been saying we needed to see over the past 2-3 weeks. The gymnasts with the easier Yurchenko Full vaults (9.95 start value) were much tighter, getting great height and sticking or nearly-sticking their landings. And Snead and Marino both once again performed their Yurchenko 1.5 vaults (10.0 start value). Neither Snead nor Marino stuck their landings, but with a higher start value, you have more room for error, so if they can pull those vaults together more, we can go even higher than this score.

As I’ve said, ultimately our goal is to get at least 49.300 on every rotation, with 1 or 2 rotations going above that. Meeting that goal would get us to a minimum 197.200 score, with each tenth above 49.300 raising our overall team score that much more. We’re probably going to need a score in at least the low 197’s to make the Super Six, so this is definitely a goal we want to see achieved. And for the first time this season, the Gym Dogs broke that 49.3 barrier on vault.

Bottom line: Keep up the good work, ladies!

Rotation 2: Uneven Bars - 49.175

Morgan Reynolds - 9.775
Hayley Sanders - 9.90(!!)
Lauren Johnson - 9.725
Sydney Snead - 9.75
Rachel Dickson - 9.90
Rachel Schick - 9.85
Jordyn Pedersen (exhibition)

There’s no sugar-coating this one: we had a pretty down bars rotation tonight. Many of our ladies just didn’t look “on” tonight, though there were two notable exceptions. First, Rachel Dickson continued her march through her freshman season with another great effort tonight. I think the next 3 years for Dickson is going to be something wonderful to behold, since I think she’s just going to get better and better.

Second... Hayley Sanders! If you read midseason review, which included an interview with Sanders and an anecdote from Coach Durante about how far Hayley has come, then you’ll appreciate what a great achievement this is for her. She’s had judges shortchange her virtually nonstop this season, but her personal “word of inspiration” through it all has been “Undeniable.” Well, Hayley was undeniable on Saturday night, and she earned her just reward for that effort. Congratulations, Hayley.

Hayley Sanders, finally getting the high score she deserved
Cory A. Cole/UGA Sports Communications

As for the rest of the team... I got no clue what happened. We just had an off night. We picked up the slack with the 2 really great rotations that we had, but we have to be tighter on bars when it comes to brass-tacks time at the NCAA’s.

Rotation 3: Balance Beam - 49.100

Sabrina Vega - 9.85
Hayley Sanders - 9.775
Rachel Dickson - 9.625
Ashlyn Broussard - 9.775
Vivi Babalis - 9.85
Rachel Schick - 9.85

Sabrina Vega started this rotation off very well, with a 9.85 that could really have been a 9.90, in my opinion. But then we kind of went off the rails in the middle of the rotation. Nobody fell, thankfully, but we had lots of wobbles and balance breaks, and both Sanders and Dickson fell victim to a Soviet judge who apparently just wanted to kill them on the scoresheet at every opportunity. Sanders got a 9.85 from one judge but just a 9.70 from the Soviet judge, and Dickson actually got a 9.80 from one judge and a 9.55 from the Soviet judge. The huge disparity in Dickson’s scores, by rule, necessitated a judges’ conference to settle the dispute, and the first judge ended up changing her score to a 9.70, which is how Rachel came out with her 9.625.

I don’t see how Vivi Babalis got struck down to a 9.85. Her routine was awesome, and definitely deserved a 9.9, and Rachel Schick’s routine was great, too. We just got some really tight scoring tonight on beam.

This kind of wild judging disparity seems to be happening an inordinate amount to our team this year, and I’m not really sure why. Maybe we’re just “that close” to being good or missing big pieces at times... I don’t know. What I do know, though, is that many times, especially on beam, we seem to constantly be getting the short end of the stick.

Still, though, even with the judging mishaps, the team soldiered on and ended up carding a somewhat-respectable 49.100. It’s nowhere close to this team’s potential, though, for beam.

Rotation 4: Floor Exercise - 49.600

Morgan Reynolds - 9.875
Vivi Babalis - 9.90
Sabrina Vega - 9.90
Sydney Snead - 9.90
Rachel Dickson - 9.95
Gigi Marino - 9.95
Beth Roberts (exhibition)

Our drop score was a 9.875. We didn’t count any score lower than a 9.90. This, ladies and gentlemen, is how you do a floor rotation. The 49.600 is our high score for any event this season. Excellent work all around.

We might have gotten a half-tenth here or there from the judges due to a little bit of a loose judging, but Utah got the same leniency we did... it’s just that their floor routines were surprisingly poor (by their standards) tonight. The judges “called it both ways,” so I ain’t complaining.

Conclusion: Georgia Gym Dogs - 197.250, Utah Red Rocks - 196.65

Utah had a down night... there’s no getting around that. They are capable of much better than they showed. Of course, their highest scores do usually come at home, where (due to a larger-capacity arena than ours) they regularly have 15,000+ fans cheering them on.

One of the most important keys to maintaining consistency in college gymnastics is being able to put up the same high level of performance whether you’re doing it in front of 10,000 of your own fans or 15,000 opposing fans. As this season has wound down, our ladies have shown that they can perform well in any venue, and that is a good sign for the postseason. From here on out, the Gym Dog fans will be, at best, a large minority in any crowd we’ll be performing for, so our ladies will be relying on their own confidence and experience to carry them through. They’ve shown that they can do that. Also, this team seems to be peaking at exactly the right time, and that bodes well for our postseason performances, as well.

We showed tonight that even with a “down” performance on bars and beam, we can still break 197. If we can put it all together on all 4 rotations on the same night... we could really have a special score in store for us. Either way, though, I think our ladies have shown us that their floor, even on a bad night, is somewhere in the upper 196’s. The ceiling is probably in the upper 197’s, if we can get everything rolling on every event. We’ll just have to see which it will be when the lights are shining brightest in a few weeks.

The next competition for Danna’s Dawgs is the SEC Championship meet in Jacksonville, Florida. The meet will be held this coming Saturday, March 18, in 2 sessions, with the afternoon session consisting of the teams ranked 5-8 in the SEC by RQS (Kentucky, Mizzou, Auburn, and Arkansas). The afternoon session will start at 2:00 PM and will be televised live on ESPNU.

The Gym Dogs will be competing in the evening session along with LSU, Florida, and Alabama. This session will start at approximately 6:00 PM, and will be televised live on the SEC Network. The team with the highest score from either session will be crowned the SEC Champion. (So, technically, one of the teams from the afternoon session could win the championship, though that’s unlikely.)

The SEC Championship meet counts as an “away” meet for RQS purposes, so even if we don’t win it all, another score in the 197’s would still help us for postseason ranking purposes. That’s notable, because even with Saturday’s high score, the University of Denver still jumped us in the rankings and pushed us down to 8th. The difference in ours and Denver’s RQS is just 0.035, though, so it would be nice to get back up into 7th and potentially get a more favorable draw in the NCAA regionals.

I’ll be back next week with a recap of the SEC Championship and a look ahead to the NCAA Regionals. Until then...

Go Dawgs!