Georgia’s season has barely started, but it gets a quick wake-up call this weekend.
The Gym Dogs will test their early-season nerves when they travel to defending national champion and bitter rival Alabama in just their second meet of the season. The Crimson Tide, on the other hand, are opening their season.
“I think we definitely have an advantage because we’ve already competed,” Georgia senior Gina Nuccio said. “We already have one under our belt and we had a solid meet. We’re also Alabama’s first meet. Sometimes you have the first-time jitters, so we’ll see how they compete. Obviously the history between our programs is huge. I think just this last meet alone has made our confidence a lot stronger. We’ve got our starting point and now we want to build from there. Alabama is a great opportunity.”
No. 9 Georgia faces second-ranked Alabama for an 8:30 p.m. start today at Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa. Georgia opened the season with a mostly-clean performance at home against Denver last weekend.
The long-time rivalry between Georgia and Alabama should guarantee a hostile crowd at Coleman Coliseum. It will also be the Crimson Tide’s first home meet since winning the national championship last April, so the environment should be especially rabid. Georgia has won 10 national championships; Alabama won its fifth last spring.
“I was really nervous for my first meet,” said Georgia sophomore Kaylan Earls, who is in her first competitive season with the Gym Dogs after missing last year with an Achilles tendon injury. “I’m ready for it. I’ll just try to block it out. I’m not really too worried about what they think. I just need to go out and get my job done.”
Georgia comes off one of its cleanest performances in recent memory. Georgia only had one fall in 24 events and scored 196.525 points against Denver last week in Stegeman Coliseum. The Gym Dogs broke the 49-point barrier on balance beam, uneven parallel bars and vault. Their one fall came on floor exercise, although they had some other miscues that added up to a 48.925.
“It’s huge to have that meet under our belts already,” Nuccio said. “Normally at the beginning of the season, you’re worried about making sure everybody stays on the equipment and you don’t have to count a fall. So for us to go out and hit 23 of 24 routines and not have to count that fall was huge for our confidence and huge for our momentum.”
“I was happy with three events,” Georgia coach Jay Clark said. “We’ve still got some work to do on floor, but I was really pleased with three events. I think we’ve still got some things to improve on, for sure. We’ve got to clean some things up. But overall I was pleased with how things went. I gave them an A or A-minus on every event except floor and I gave them a C.”
Although just 17 of the top 25 teams competed last week, Georgia had the highest score in the nation. It was also Georgia’s highest season-opening score since 2007. First-year performers contributed heavily to that mark, with Earls along with freshmen Chelsea Davis and Sarah Persinger combining to contribute seven scores out of their eight routines. Davis was named Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week after leading off and scoring 9.8 on both the vault and the bars. Earls hit 9.775 on vault, 9.825 on beam and 9.85 on floor.
“I’m glad to get that first one over,” Earls said. “It felt really good. Being able to contribute on three events was great. I would have been happy to contribute on just one event. But it was great to get back out there and perform again.”
No. 9 Georgia at No. 2 Alabama
WHEN: 8:30 p.m. Eastern
WHERE: Coleman Coliseum, Tuscaloosa , Ala.
COACHES RANKINGS: Georgia is No. 9, Alabama is No. 2.
RECORDS: Georgia is 1-0, 0-0 in the Southeastern Conference; Alabama is 0-0, 0-0.
AUDIO-VIDEO: Live audio feed at www.georgiadogs.com ; Tape delay video on ESPNU at 6:30 p.m. on Jan. 19.
SERIES: Georgia leads 79-46-2.
LAST MEETING: Alabama finished first while Georgia finished ninth at the NCAA national championships last spring.
SEASON AT A GLANCE: Georgia opened the season by scoring 196.525 points to beat Denver last weekend. This is Alabama ’s first meet of the season.
ATHLETES TO WATCH:
Alabama – Senior Geralen Stack-Eaton won the NCAA individual floor exercise last season. … Ashley Sledge was an All-American on vault after finishing seventh at the national championships. … Marissa Gutierrez finished fifth in vault at last year’s national championships and was a first-team All-American.
Georgia – Senior Kat Ding is the defending national champion on bars and tied a career high with 9.975 last week against Denver . … Noel Couch won her first career all-around title last week with 39.275 points. … Chelsea Davis scored 9.8 on bars and vault and was the SEC’s Freshman of the Week.
NOTEWORTHY: Georgia and Alabama have combined to win 15 national championships. Georgia has the record with 10 and Alabama won its fifth last season. … Georgia hit 23 of its 24 routines last week against Denver . … Kaylan Earls returned from an Achilles tendon injury and competed in three events. … Cat Hires hit a career-high 9.875 on vault last week. … Former Alabama All-American Ashley Priess is back after missing all of last season with ankle injuries. … Alabama returns 20 of the 24 routines that won the national championship last season.
- Roger Clarkson