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Gymnastics Preview: Gymdogs Open 2024 At Home Looking To Continue 2023 Momentum

Syndication: Online Athens Joshua L. Jones / USA TODAY NETWORK

Coach Courtney Kupets Carter will lead the GymDogs into action on Saturday to open her seventh season at the helm of Georgia gymnastics, hosting the Wolfpack of North Carolina State.

Saturday’s opener will be streamed live on SEC Network+, beginning at 3:45. Georgia is 4-0 all-time versus NC State, though the two haven’t squared off since 2017. The Wolfpack come to Stegeman ranked #30 in the College Gym News rankings, and present a solid all-around test for the Red and Black.

The GymDogs enter 2024 looking to build on solid momentum gained in 2023, and relying on a mix of both steady veterans and promising newcomers to compete in the grueling world of SEC gymnastics.

2023 was a building year for the GymDogs. Despite some early struggles, it turned out to be a nice step forward. Coach Kupets Carter added seven freshmen to the squad and a handful of veteran transfers. Contributions from both helped raise the GymDogs’ NQS score to the highest since 2019.

The GymDogs’ NCAA Regionals score of 197.00 was higher than the team’s average and NQS (National Qualifying Score) for the season, underscoring the fact that the team developed significantly from beginning to end.

That progress didn’t go unnoticed, as five GymDogs received All-SEC honors, the most in one season since 2003. Senior Soraya Hawthorne earned WCGA All-American honors, the first GymDog to do so since 2020. The Red and Black enter 2024 ranked #16 in College Gym News’ preseason poll. Oklahoma is the top-ranked squad, followed by Florida at #2 and LSU at #3. Georgia is one of eight SEC programs in the top 20.

Building on 2023’s late season momentum will require a step forward from some of 2023’s young ‘Dawgs, but the early returns are certainly positive. At the annual First Look warm up event last month at the Stege sophomore JaFree Scott scored a perfect 10.00 on bars, and four Bulldogs scored 9.90 or higher on the event. Scott competed in all 13 meets during the 2023 season, earning freshman All-SEC honors. She’ll be a contender for All-SEC honors as a sophomore.

Scott’s fellow sophomore Naya Howard will also be a key contributor in 2024. Last season Howard became the first Bulldog freshman to compete all-around since 2017, and competed on vault, bars and beam in all 13 meets. She earned weekly All-SEC freshman honors both after the late season meet against Arkansas and the SEC Championships. A strong sophomore campaign could also place her in contention for all-conference honors.

Graduate Haley de Jong’s 9.875 led all scorers on the beam at the First Look, and her reliable veteran presence across events is going to be critical for 2024. The Vancouver native earned one of the top three scores of the 2023 season in every event for the GymDogs, and kept the squad in contention with rotation-saving scores on a couple of occasions.

Fellow graduate student Amanda Cashman returns after competing in all 13 2023 meets, notching the team’s highest score on vault at the SEC Championships. Cashman did some of Georgia’s best work on the vault in 2023, and will likely be in the rotation on that critical event in 2024 as well.

While the veterans will be key, Coach Carter has continued to stack competitors on this roster. The GymDogs had the top signing class in America in 2023, highlighted by the #3 overall recruit in the country, Lily Smith out of Limerick, Pennsylvania. Smith switched her commitment from Alabama to Georgia, and is known for her outstanding technique. Smith has been a standout on floor at elite events for a couple of seasons and should be an immediate contributor. The Bulldogs will need to replace departed All-American Hawthorne, who tallied five out of the GymDogs’ top six floor scores during the 2023 season.

Fellow five star recruit Holly Snyder (yes, gymnastics recruiting uses the star system too) out of Annapolis, Maryland is a four time state champion and one of the more complete all-around recruits in the country. Snyder already scored the team-high on the beam (9.850) at the First Look.

Fellow freshman Jaydah Battle of Hampton, Virginia has placed in the top three in both beam and vault in consecutive years at Level 10 Nationals, the premier competition for pre-collegiate competitors. Those events both dogged (rimshot) the Dawgs at times in 2023, so some reinforcements can’t hurt.

For this opening meet I’m mainly looking to see who the GymDogs have competing in which events. I’d love to see a step forward on the beam, an event that gave Georgia fits at times in 2023. The Bulldogs came up short at the Denver Regionals last year, losing out to elite programs LSU and Oregon State in the race for a national qualifying spot. Georgia is still a young squad, but 2024 feels like it could be a big leap forward for a team that will be loaded with elite veterans in 2025.

Go ‘Dawgs!!!