Couch turns injury into ‘learning experience’ before returning to Gym Dogs’ lineup

Noel Couch had not been seriously hurt at Georgia before.

So, when an injured thumb knocked Couch out of the first half of her senior season, she didn’t know what to do with herself.

“It was really frustrating, obviously,” Couch said. “I really love to be competing and to be out there in the moment and show everybody what I’ve got. But at the same time, it was really an opportunity and I was able to step back and take things in from a different perspective and take on a different role, a supportive role. It was a learning experience to be able to find other ways to contribute until I was able to come back.”

No. 9 Georgia (5-4-1, 3-0-1 in the Southeastern Conference) will face No. 1 Florida (5-1, 4-1) at 4 p.m. today in Stegeman Coliseum.

This will be the second high-profile opponent Georgia has hosted in the last three weeks. Georgia beat two-time defending national champion Alabama 197.5-196.95 on Feb. 2 in Couch’s first meet back from the injured thumb.

“Noel has been such a big part of this program for a long time,” Georgia coach Danna Durante said. It’s hard to say she’s the hardest worker because the whole gym is full of athletes who work very hard. But Noel is usually the first one in and the last one to leave. She comes back in to do more if she thinks she needs it. She’s just a huge piece of glue that keeps everything together.”

Couch had been Georgia’s rock in the middle of the lineup for her first three seasons.

She set a school record by competing in all-around for 28 consecutive meets. She hurt her thumb while training on bars the week before the season opener against Oklahoma and missed five meets.

“At first, I was obviously very upset and frustrated and had to go through the process of letting out all that anger and emotion,” Couch said. “But after the first few days, I really took some time to just think it over and look at the big picture. That was really a big part of me being able to make myself better mentally, so when I was able to come back, I’d be at an even higher level. I had to continue to stay in shape physically doing whatever I could do. The mental part was also important because I had to go through each routine in my head because I couldn’t do it physically. That was the only way I could keep up with everything.”

Couch has competed on balance beam and floor exercise the last two meets, scoring 9.875 on both floor and beam against Alabama and 9.75 on beam and 9.725 on floor against Kentucky. Couch is slowly working herself back into shape to possibly add vault and uneven parallel bars in time for the postseason.

“I know that it absolutely killed her to be hurt,” Georgia senior Shayla Worley said. Worley missed much of her freshman season with a sprained ankle. “She didn’t show it in the gym or whine about it or dwell on it, just because I know how she is and the type of things that motivate her. She did such a great job of finding that temporary role of being supportive, which is something she’s never been in. Even during that, she’d be the last one out of the gym or she’d be in her working out the day we’re competing. She’ll do anything she can possibly do to make herself better.”

 

Florida at Georgia

When: 4 p.m. today

Where: Stegeman Coliseum.

Webcast: georgiadogs.com.

TV: Tape delay on FSN South at 4 p.m. on Feb. 23.

Records: Georgia is 5-4-1, 3-0-1 in the SEC; Florida is 5-1, 4-1.

Rankings: Georgia is No. 9, Florida is No. 1.

Athletes to watch:

Georgia: Sophomore Chelsea Davis has been ranked first in the nation on bars for two consecutive weeks. Her average is 9.907. … Brittany Rogers is ranked in the top 20 on two events, 11th on bars (9.868 average) and 17th on vault (9.886). … Beam anchor Kaylan Earls is ranked No. 13 on the event with a 9.861 average.

Florida: Bridget Sloan is ranked second nationally in all-around. … Ashanee Dickerson is ranked seventh in all-around. … Kytra Hunter is ranked second overall on floor exercise at 9.925 and third in vault at 9.925.

Series record: Georgia leads 88-40-1, including 18-15-1 in duals.

Last meeting: Florida out-pointed Georgia in the first round of the NCAA nationals last season.

Season at a glance: Georgia followed up its season-high 197.5 points against Alabama with 195.825 at Kentucky to finish in a tie. Florida set the highest score in the nation so far this season with 198.1 against Alabama last week.

Noteworthy: Georgia had to count a fall on balance beam last week against Kentucky. … Florida has outscored Georgia in seven consecutive meets, including three duals and three SEC Championships. Georgia’s last win against the Gators was in the 2009 NCAA Championship Super Six when the Gym Dogs won the national title for the fifth consecutive time. … Georgia coach Danna Durante and Florida coach Rhonda Faehn were both assistants under Dan Kendig at Nebraska, but not at the same time. Durante replaced Faehn when she became the Gators’ head coach and Durante moved into Faehn’s old desk. … Georgia has had an all-around competitor in just two meets so far this season, Cat Hires in the season opener and Brittany Rogers last week at Kentucky. … Georgia is ranked fourth on vault (49.304), second on bars (49.282), 11th on beam (48.875 and 14th on floor (49.936). Florida is ranked first on vault (49.421), first on bars (49.429) and second on beam (49.179).

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