Georgia lost a major chunk of senior experience last season.
So, the Gym Dogs needed new faces to make an immediate impact.
Brandie Jay and Brittany Rogers have stepped forward to help fill the gap left by the departed stars Kat Ding and Gina Nuccio.
“They’re doing fantastic,” first-year Gym Dogs coach Danna Durante said. “It’s a very hard-working group, which is a hard thing to say because the entire group is a hard-working group. Brittany and Brandie have obviously had their share of international competitions and they bring that to the table. The upperclassmen are helping them understand what the collegiate experience is all about.”
Rogers and Jay have won Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week awards the last two weeks. It is the first time Georgia has picked up back-to-back SEC freshman honors since Shayla Worley repeated in 2010.
“It’s been really good just to get into the lineups and help the team, and I’m just glad to be able to contribute as much as I do,” Jay said. “I feel I’m doing well so far. Of course there’s always room to improve and things to clean up. But I feel like I’ve come out strong. We’ve all been working so hard in the gym and I’m just glad it’s showing up; and I hope it continues to get better.”
No. 8 Georgia (4-4, 2-0 in the Southeastern Conference) will host No. 5 and two-time defending national champion Alabama (3-0, 3-0) in a dual at 4 p.m. today at Stegeman Coliseum.
Georgia’s freshman class also includes Calhoun’s Mary Beth Box and Anysia Unick who os from Calgary, Alberta.
Freshmen usually come out of a club or elite system with lengthy preparation time between competitions. Collegiate gymnastics is an 11-meet, 10-week regular season grind that can go by in a blur that can take rookies by surprise.
“After every meet finishes I want to start again, it goes by so fast,” Rogers said. “Literally, in a blink of an eye, it goes by and you don’t even remember what you did the week before. But I’m having the time of my life. I’ve never expected it to be this fun but it is and I’m enjoying every second of it.”
Jay, who is from Fort Collins, Colo., has competed in three events the last two weeks and had her most productive outing when she hit 9.9 on vault and uneven parallel bars against Stanford. Jay made a splash in her first meet when she anchored the vault in the season opener against Oklahoma and scored 9.875.
“It felt like another day at practice,” Jay said. “I’ve been doing that vault for so long, it just felt good to finally go out there and do it. I thought it started off great. I was so happy to have started off my career here the way I did. It could have been a better vault but I couldn’t be happier with the way I did and I’m so glad that it started that way.”
Rogers, who is from Coquitlam, British Columbia, has competed in vault, bars and beam in every meet so far this season. She hit a 9.9 on vault against Stanford and had two 9.9s last week at the Metroplex Challenge — vault and bars. Rogers competed for Canada in the London 2012 Olympics in August and did not join the Gym Dogs until late December.
“The biggest thing that surprised me was the fans and how loud they are,” Rogers said. “The fans are so dedicated and crazy. Everybody on campus just looks at you like you’re some kind of god. It’s kind of cool. That’s the biggest surprise how much people pay attention to you and how much you’re in the spotlight all the time. It can go to your head. I think I’m doing a pretty good job of not letting it go to my head. It’s not something I especially need but it’s something I do enjoy.”
Jay’s international experience includes a stint on the 2011-12 United States national team that won team gold at the Pan American Games. where she also won individual vault gold. Rogers comes off Canada’s best Olympic finish in history. Both have a thick playbook of high-end skills but Durante wants their routines to be short and efficient instead of long and complex.
“This is so different from elite,” Durante said. “We don’t get rewarded for having the kitchen sink in every routine and in elite you do. Here we get rewarded for being clean and consistent in whatever it is you’re going to do as close to perfect as possible. Those two have had to buy into that and they have. I think there are people outside who don’t understand that. Absolutely they have a bag of tricks that we are not using right now. But we want to put them in the absolute position to be successful.”
A CLOSER LOOK
Alabama at Georgia
When: 4 p.m.
Where: Stegeman Coliseum.
TV: Tape delay on FSN South at 4 p.m. on Feb. 9.
Records: Georgia is 4-4, 2-0 in the SEC; Alabama is 3-0, 3-0.
Rankings: Georgia is No. 8, Alabama is No. 5.
Athletes to watch:
Alabama: Kim Jacob is ranked No. 14 in the country in all-around. … Diandra Milliner is No. 7 on vault and Ashley Priess is No. 7 on bars.
Georgia: Brittany Rogers was the SEC Freshman of the Week after getting 9.9 on vault and bars at the Metroplex Challenge last week. … Chelsea Davis is ranked third in the nation on bars with a 9.905 average. … Christa Tanella hit a career-high 9.9 on floor exercise last week.
Series record: Georgia leads 79-49-2, including 31-11 in dual meets.
Last meeting: Alabama finished first and Georgia finished fifth in a semifinal session at the 2012 NCAA Championships.
Season at a glance: Georgia scored a season-high 197 points in its last dual against Stanford on Jan. 21. Georgia comes off 196.775 points and a fourth-place finish at the Metroplex Challenge last week. Alabama has won all three of its meets so far and scored 196.575 against Kentucky last week.
Noteworthy: Chelsea Davis has placed first on bars in all five meets so far and has hit 9.95 twice. … Georgia has had back-to-back SEC freshman of the week award winners, Brandie Jay and Brittany Rogers. This will be Georgia’s Alumni Night and past Gym Dogs will be honored before the meet. … Georgia has not out-scored Alabama since winning the 2009 national title. Alabama has defeated Georgia in the last seven meetings and has won the last two national championships. … Noel Couch has missed the first half of the season with an injured thumb and is questionable for Alabama. … Sophomore Whitney Kirby made her Georgia debut at the Metroplex Challenge and scored 9.575 on beam. … Kati Breazeal performed on floor for the first time at the Metroplex Challenge and scored 9.2. … Ashley Priess is the second fifth-year senior in Alabama history. … Alabama’s Kim Jacob scored a career-high 9.925 on floor exercise against Kentucky last week.
— Roger Clarkson