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Gym Dogs Finish 4th at SEC Championships

A bad first two rotations cost the Georgia gymnastics team a chance at seriously contending for the SEC championship on Saturday night.

Sophomore Sydney Snead, All-SEC bars honoree
John Paul Van Wert/UGA Sports Communications

As evening fell along the banks of the St. Johns River in Jacksonville, Florida, the Georgia Gym Dogs began their quest to win a 17th SEC gymnastics championship. Unfortunately, by the end of the first rotation, the Gym Dogs had ended that quest with their subpar performance, and by the end of the second rotation, all hope of seriously contending to finish better than 4th was gone, as well.

It wasn’t a banner night for Danna’s Dawgs, and even though they metaphorically picked themselves up and soldiered on in the face of adversity, there’s no question that this was a disappointing night for every Gym Dog fan.

Let’s get straight to the rotation-by-rotation recap:

Rotation 1: Floor Exercise - 49.05

Morgan Reynolds - 9.85
Vivi Babalis - 9.85
Sabrina Vega - 9.675
Sydney Snead - 9.725
Rachel Dickson - 9.80
Gigi Marino - 9.825

If you could have scripted a scenario titled, “How we definitely don’t want the meet to start,” it might have looked a lot like what transpired here. In general, it looked to me like most of our ladies were a little tense and nervous, and they were unable to channel that nervous energy into raising their performance... instead letting it hinder them from doing their usual excellent floor work.

Morgan Reynolds and Vivi Babalis started off the night with relatively strong performances, but when Sabrina Vega uncharacteristically lost her landing and stepped out of bounds on her third pass, everything started going downhill. I believe it was the first time all season that Vega has stepped out of bounds, meaning that whatever score the judges gave her would automatically be reduced by one tenth. In addition, she got the usual deduction for an out-of-control landing on that pass (up to two tenths+, depending on the judge’s discretion), which means that Vega’s one major mistake cost her dearly.

After Vega’s routine, Sydney Snead came up next and similarly made a couple of uncharacteristic flubs, most notably on the landing of her second pass, I believe.

Then, in the fifth performance of the night, Rachel Dickson rolled her ankle as she landed her third pass. (Thankfully, she still managed to land the pass well, carding a 9.80 that was pretty reasonable, under the circumstances.) Dickson was slated to be our only all-around performer tonight, and her injury meant that she might not be able to compete at all for the rest of the night. That meant emergency substitutions in the lineup at the last minute, which is a nightmare. You never want a gymnast who wasn’t mentally prepared to compete to be called on at literally the last minute to perform on virtually any occasion, but certainly not in a major postseason competition.

Gigi Marino wrapped up the floor rotation with another uncharacteristic mistake, as our most solid floor performer of the season also flubbed her third tumbling pass.

When the dust settled, Danna’s Dawgs had only managed a 49.05 on their floor rotation... the worst floor score we’ve put up since the second meet of the season. With this team, in a tournament against multiple elite teams, even one rotation that’s not our best could mean that we’re out of contention. With a virtual disaster like this, however, our chances of winning the SEC championship were completely gone. Especially when you consider that floor should be one of our best events, and we had the opportunity to possibly even have a lead on everyone after the first rotation if we’d held to some of our better floor scores on the year. But no... we flubbed it, so the championship was gone.

We still had a chance to bolster our RQS, however, by picking up the slack in the other 3 rotations and come up with a 197+ score, so there was still a major goal to compete for in the remainder of the meet.

Rotation 2: Vault - 49.125

Ashlyn Broussard - 9.725
Morgan Reynolds - 9.80
Beth Roberts (late sub for Dickson) - 9.70
Lauren Johnson - 9.85
Gigi Marino - 9.85
Sydney Snead - 9.90

The judging on vault was a little tight, but you do generally see pretty tight judging in postseason meets. Expectations are ratcheted up a little bit, especially when the judges are expecting to see a large number of high-quality performances, so that was to be anticipated.

Unfortunately, we just didn’t step up to the challenge on vault. It’s not surprising that Beth Roberts had a poor vault, considering that she wasn’t inserted into the lineup until the last minute after Dickson’s injury on floor. It is more than a little disappointing, though, that our senior who was supposed to be leading the way with the first vault, Ashlyn Broussard, couldn’t step up her game and provide a big performance in a big situation.

As a result, we fell back into the 49.1 range on the vault rotation, when we needed to be picking up our scores to compensate for the terrible floor score. After this rotation, we had virtually no chance of scoring in the 197 range for the meet, which meant that we weren’t going to be improving our RQS score, so our meet, for all intents and purposes, was over.

With the pressure off and nothing for which to really compete after this point other than pride, it looked like our ladies relaxed and performed a bit better, and the scores for the final 2 rotations reflected that fact. It’s unfortunate that this didn’t happen until that point, however.

Rotation 3: Uneven Bars - 49.250

Morgan Reynolds - 9.85
Hayley Sanders - 9.775
Lauren Johnson - 9.90
Sydney Snead - 9.90
Rachel Dickson - 9.20
Rachel Schick - 9.825

I know Rachel Dickson is a hell of a competitor with the heart of a lion, and there’s no doubt that she campaigned as hard as she could for the coaches to put her back out on the mat for bars, but she shouldn’t have been competing. Her performance speaks for itself. She was obviously hampered and/or distracted by her foot injury, and the fault for her routine doesn’t lie on her, in my opinion. It lies on Jay Hogue and Danna Durante, who make the decision to let her compete after clearly having a bum hoof.

(And for the record, your feet are incredibly important even on bars, even though you’re in the air for all of the routine other than the dismount. You have to keep your toes pointed, which takes effort and can cause pain, and the muscles in your legs and feet are important on most skills in general and with regards to maintaining your balance and form. This is definitely the case on your release move, which Dickson missed, causing her to fall to the mat.)

Other than Dickson, it was a fairly good rotation, though both Sanders and Schick were far from their best. Senior Lauren Johnson did show some major leadership tonight by going out there and tying her best bars score of the season, while also having a very good vault performance previously. Good to see this senior stepping up when that leadership is needed for the team.

Rotation 4: Balance Beam - 49.275

Sabrina Vega - 9.825
Hayley Sanders - 9.825
Morgan Reynolds (late sub for Dickson) - 9.675
Ashlyn Broussard - 9.90
Vivi Babalis - 9.875
Rachel Schick - 9.85

No falls, generally very good performances, and the only bad score was for Morgan Reynolds, who (like Beth Roberts on vault) only found out she was competing right before the beam rotation started due to Rachel Dickson’s injury. So that’s understandable.

Conclusion: Georgia Gym Dogs 196.700 (4th place out of 8)

So, when it was all said and done, Danna’s Dawgs finished the meet, positionally, in the same place we started - 4th in the SEC. We came in last in the evening session, but we scored better than all 4 teams in the afternoon session. In addition, Sydney Snead and Lauren Johnson both earned All-SEC honors on the uneven bars for their 9.90 scores on that event.

The meet was won by the LSU Gym Tigers, who capped off their regular-season conference championship by winning their second ever SEC gymnastics tournament championship. Congratulations, Bayou Gymgals, and Geaux Tigers (if only because they beat Florida and Alabama, and I can always get behind the Gators and the Gym Tide losing).

As I said last week, it looks like this team’s floor is the upper-196 range, and that’s what we saw tonight, when we had two bad rotations and two fairly good ones. Unfortunately, the upper 196 range ain’t gonna get us nowhere we want to go from here on out.

If you’ll recall, I’ve regularly said that our goal for every rotation is to achieve a score of 49.300 or better. That will put us at 197.200, and every tenth we get above 49.3 will increase our overall score even more. Well, we didn’t hit that 49.300 benchmark on any rotation tonight. That’s a problem, and one that we’ll have to rectify quickly.

Finally, we had another problem that got worse for us tonight: our national ranking. The Gym Dogs started the night ranked 8th in the country, and there was hope that with a score in the 197’s, we could maintain or even improve upon that ranking. We obviously didn’t improve our RQS with this 196.700 score, which was our 8th-best of the season... or 5th-worst, if you want to look at it that way. But we didn’t hurt our RQS, either, since the RQS is based on your 6 best scores, 3 of which must be from “away” meets.

Unfortunately, both Michigan and Oregon State had great nights at their respective conference championship meets, and their scores in the 197 range meant that they both leapt above us in the national rankings. That means that instead of going into the NCAA regionals ranked 8th, we’ll be going in ranked 10th.

I won’t include a long, drawn-out explanation of the regional selection process, but the bottom line is that instead of facing pretty manageable seeded region opponents such as Alabama and Southern Utah (or UCLA and Iowa) at some far-flung destination that is not a home location for any seeded team, we’ll probably be facing Florida and Mizzou in our regional, which will be held in Gainesville, FL. That means that we probably don’t really have a shot of winning our regional, and if we have another “down night,” then Mizzou could possibly even pip us for that second spot. And if we don’t finish in the top 2 in the NCAA regional meet, then our season is over. And that would be an unmitigated disaster.

The regional matchups haven’t officially been set, though, so it’s possible that some quirk of the selection process could change that pairing. (Normally it’s automatically set up based on ranking position, but changes always have to be made to ensure that two teams who are set to host a meet aren’t paired together, along with other less common considerations.) So we’ll just have to wait and see if we draw that challenge that I expect in the regional meet.

The Gym Dogs’ next competition will be the NCAA Regional meet, and the location and opponents for that meet will be announced tomorrow (Monday, March 20) at 4:00 PM. The NCAA selection show will be streamed live at the NCAA website. The regional meet itself will be held on Saturday, April 1, with start time to be announced on Monday (probably 4:00 or 6:00 PM local time).

There’s no question that Danna’s Dawgs have dug themselves into a hole, but now it’s time to take these next 2 weeks, get healthy and tighten up those routines, and hunker down and perform as we know they’re capable to get themselves out of the hole. I’ll be back on Monday to share the NCAA regional pairings and to break down UGA’s regional, so until then...

Go Dawgs!