Friday was like a spell of cruel déjà vu for the No. 5 Georgia gymnastics team.
AJ Reynolds/Staff, @ajreynoldsphoto
Georgia head coach Danna Durante hugs a gymnast after a performance on the balance beam during a gymnastics meet against Kentucky on Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014, in Athens, Ga.
The Gym Dogs were leading through three rotations at No. 7 Alabama and on track to score a 197 in a road meet for the first time this season — just like they were two weeks ago against No. 3 Florida.
“We had some good routines, no question, but nothing was stellar and they had to work for everything,” coach Danna Durante said of the first three rotations against the Crimson Tide. “It was a tough meet. It’s kind of one of those football games when people say, ‘Well, it was ugly.’”
And then beam caused some problems — just like at Florida.
The warm-up, Durante said, went well for most of the lineup, but not so well for a couple athletes.
“(I was) thinking that we needed to do what I know they’re capable of and we’re in this,” Durante said. “Honestly, we should’ve been further than a half a 10th ahead, but we weren’t for whatever reason. Just feeling like we needed to continue to fight because they weren’t particularly on either.”
Sophomore Mary Beth Box was up first, scoring a 9.875 in her second consecutive week leading off.
“And then Ashlyn (Broussard) struggled,” Durante said of the freshman who fell, leading to an 8.4. “I think Ashlyn is just at a point where she is struggling. We’ve got to figure that out.”
It was the second fall on beam of the season for Broussard, who took a spill in the final rotation against Florida. After Broussard’s fall, all-arounder Brittany Rogers churned out a 9.85 while fighting through some major nerves, Durante said. Junior Sarah Persinger, competing in her second meet of the season, sealed the Gym Dogs’ fate, forcing them to count a fall with her 9.3 score.
“Sarah came up and really did a beautiful routine until the very last skill before the dismount and her foot slipped off,” said Durante, whose 3-4 team has yet to win on the road this season. “Then you close it with Cheek and Kay, who do what they always do.”
Seniors Lindsey Cheek and Kaylan Earls finished off the rotation on a high note, scoring a 9.925 and 9.95, respectively, as the Gym Dogs finished with less a 49 on beam (48.9) for the third time this season. Cheek and Earls posted a 9.8 and 9.95, respectively, two weeks ago at Florida after two falls led to a 198.05-196.7 loss for the Gym Dogs.
“I do feel like four of them are incredibly strong, and we need to fill that with two more that are very strong and confident,” Durante said, who has used just two different beam lineups this season. “That’s what (today) will be about is get them to a place where they stop working afraid, and I do think that four of them are doing that. It just seems like those two spots, because we’ve had others in that lineup, too, they work with the fear instead of confidence.”
Durante said she plans to change the beam lineup for the Gym Dogs’ 7:30 p.m. meet Friday against Missouri, though she didn’t give specifics. She emphasized the mental toughness of Cheek and Earls, saying that has to spread throughout the beam lineup and to other events as well.
“We are fighters, they are fighters, but they need to be tougher mentally,” Durante said. “They need to know that when it’s on the line, they have ability and they need to go in and close the deal. We’re missing that. We need to figure out where it is, how to get it and switch that around. I know we can and I know that we will, it’s just a matter of getting it sooner rather than later.”
The Gym Dogs will have their first training session of the week today, the first step toward gaining more mental toughness and seeing who can step in to strengthen the struggling beam lineup, especially with the Southeastern Conference championships a little more than a month away.
“It’s certainly not a physical issue,” Durante said. “It’s not that they don’t know how to do gymnastics or to do beam. It’s not that they’re not talented or anything. For me, it’s a confidence issue. It’s believing that we truly are one of the best teams in the country and sometimes that’s as hard as anything to really fully believe. I think we have a good number of athletes that do believe that. I think we have some that they want to believe it but they’re just not sure.”
Follow Rachel G. Bowers at twitter.com/rachelgbowers.