Durante says Gym Dogs ‘significantly more confident’ this season

Danna Durante has tried to put her gymnasts in similar situations before, even the freshmen.

John Kelley/UGA Sports Communications
Gym Dogs head coach Danna Durante (right) and senior Kaylan Earls celebrate after a routine during the team's Sneak Peek on Friday, Dec. 13, 2013 in Athens, Ga.

During the offseason, the No. 8 Gym Dogs would sandwich a day of treatment between fierce intersquad meets and intensive practices, all to mirror the rigorous conditions of facing two top-10 teams in three days.

“I think it’s important for us as coaches to constantly connect those dots,” Durante said in a phone interview Saturday. “So we really take a lot of time in connecting those dots and saying, ‘Remember when, remember how you felt here, remember how you performed, remember what you learned.’”

It seems to have paid off for the young Georgia squad — which had four freshmen make their collegiate debuts on Friday in a 197.700-196.500 loss at No. 3 Oklahoma — that ends its opening weekend road trip today at 5 p.m. against No. 9 Stanford in Palo Alto, Calif.

Despite the loss to the Sooners on Friday, it was Georgia’s highest point-total in a road season opener in five years.

“I knew we had some new faces in the lineup and folks that were not as experienced,” Durante said. “But we had 10 routines (Friday) night from athletes that were not in there last year on a regular basis — were not in there at all or were not in on a regular basis. I’m just very proud with the way they started their season.”

Freshman Ashlyn Broussard took on the biggest load of the youngest Gym Dogs, performing on vault, beam and bars against the Sooners. She scored a 9.75 on vault and 9.775 on beam and floor. Kiera Brown rattled off a 9.825 on bars, Morgan Reynolds posted a 9.775 on floor and Lauren Johnson competed in exhibition on vault.

“Obviously we were disappointed that we did not come away with a victory but we’re very excited about where we opened — significantly higher than last year,” said Durante, whose team scored a 195.425 in last season’s opener against Oklahoma. “Significantly more confident.”

Durante said she and the coaching staff were happy with Georgia’s lineup on Friday, but it may get tweaked before taking on the Cardinal, who opened their season in a quad-meet last week with wins over Sacramento State, UC Davis and San Jose State. The Gym Dogs had treatment done on Saturday and some had massages to help rejuvenate their bodies for the quick turnaround.

“We’ll just see how everybody is feeling (Saturday) and it is the second meet of a nice long season, so if we need to err on the side of safety we’ll do that,” Durante said. “If that means we put five competitors in or another new face in a lineup, then we’ll do that.”

Durante hopes the freshmen and less experienced athletes will benefit from that offseason regimen and hold up through the team’s travel itinerary, which had them arriving in Palo Alto, Calif., at 5 p.m. Saturday.

“They’ve risen up and met every challenge,” Durante said. “I think this will continue to build their confidence and also continue to help them trust that they are prepared and they are doing the right things and to just keep working.”