Gym Dogs’ seniors say farewell to Stegeman Coliseum as they host Utah

The Gym Dogs’ senior day comes to Stegeman Coliseum today.

Gym Dogs' seniors say farewell to Stegeman Coliseum as they host Utah
Roger Clarkson

Since gymnastics is a sport for the young, it will also be the first step toward an entirely new way of life for the athletes who are in the final stages of their competitive careers.

“It’s definitely something that gets to you,” Georgia senior Shayla Worley said. “It’s something we’ve thought about a lot. This is something I’ve done every day since the time I was 3. I literally cannot remember a time in my life when gymnastics wasn’t a priority with everything. I basically lived my entire life making all my decisions on how it was going to impact your performance the next day.”

No. 8 Georgia (6-6-1) will host No. 7 Utah (9-1-1) at 6 p.m. today in the home finale. It will be the final run through the Stegeman Coliseum tunnel for seniors Christa Tanella, Kati Breazeal, Noel Couch and Worley. Couch will likely not compete because of an injured left leg.

“Sometimes we think about gymnastics as part of our identity,” Tanella said. “We’ve always been a gymnast. For 18 years, we’ve stuck with gymnastics so when you take away this piece, you’re taking away part of you. It’s like, ‘Now what do I do? I’m not a gymnast anymore.’ But we don’t want to look at it like it’s taking something away. We want to make sure we make the most out of the opportunity that gymnastics gave us. Now we’re going to take advantage of things we can do now that we couldn’t do when we were in gymnastics. Like, now I can travel. I can go places. I can go on vacation. I couldn’t do that when I was a gymnast because I couldn’t take that much time away from gymnastics to do those things.”

Georgia’s Class of 2013 still has some work today after Senior Day. The regular season ends next week at NC State. The the Gym Dogs have trips to the Southeastern Conference championships, NCAA regionals and, if all goes well, the NCAA national championships.

“When I think back to when I first set foot on this campus as a freshman, I felt like I’d been here for years,” Couch said. “I’ve learned so much and experienced so much that it feels like I’ve been here even longer.”

Georgia’s current crop of seniors have been through as much disappointment as triumph in its last four seasons. They entered the program on the heels of five consecutive national titles. But their freshman seasons ended short of the NCAA championships for the first time since 1983. These seniors have never competed in an NCAA Super Six and last season they went through a coaching change.

“These things have definitely helped us all grow,” Breazeal said. “We’ve had to deal with disappointment. Everybody goes through setbacks in life but at the same time, all those experiences that we’ve had in these four years have set us up to be the people that we are today.”

Longtime assistant and three-year head coach Jay Clark recruited the current seniors to Georgia. Clark resigned at the end of last season and was replaced by Danna Durante, who had no previous connection to the Gym Dogs. The seniors took the lead in making the biggest upheaval in the program since 1983 as smooth as they could.

“They were instrumental in helping the rest of the team get on board,” Durante said. “Early on, they made a commitment to each other. They had two paths to go. If they weren’t on board and they didn’t jump in and give us a chance, it was going to be a really rough year. So they chose to go that direction as opposed to a year probably filled with turmoil. They’ve really been instrumental in that. As a group they wanted to do their best to lead this team and be selfless. They wanted to be very focused on the team instead of themselves.”

TODAY’S MEET

Utah at Georgia

WHEN: 6 p.m. on Saturday.

WHERE: Stegeman Coliseum.

WEBCAST: georgiadogs.com.

TV: Tape delay on CSS at 9 p.m. on March 12.

RECORDS: Georgia is 6-6-1; Utah is 9-1-1.

RANKINGS: Georgia is No. 8, Utah is No. 7.

ATHLETES TO WATCH:

Georgia: Sophomore Chelsea Davis has been ranked No. 1 in the nation on bars for five straight weeks. Her current average is 9.935 RQS. … Brittany Rogers is tied for No. 5 in the nation on bars at 9.905. RQS. … Shayla Worley is tied for seventh in the nation on balance beam with a 9.89 RQS.

Utah: Tory Wilson has been ranked No. 1 on vault for the last five weeks with a 9.955 RQS. … Georgia Dabritz has been Pac-12 Gymnast of the Week and Specialist of the Week so far this season. … Becky Tutka is ranked sixth on floor exercise with a 9.91 RQS.

SERIES RECORD: Georgia leads 24-22-1 but Utah leads 6-4 in duals.

LAST MEETING: Utah beat Georgia 197.15-196.95 in Salt Lake City last year.

SEASON at a GLANCE: Georgia has hit its season-high road score two weeks in a row with 196.825 at Missouri and LSU. Utah scored 197.125 to win a triangular against Brigham Young and North Carolina State last week.

NOTEWORTHY: This is the final home meet of the season and Senior Night. Georgia will honor seniors Shayla Worley, Christa Tanella, Noel Couch and Kati Breazeal after the meet. Couch is probably out of this week’s competition because of an injured lower left leg. … Chelsea Davis has won bars in nine of 10 meets this season. Utah’s Georgia Dabritz and Nansy Damianova have combined to win bars in six of its last seven meets. … Georgia will end its regular season next week at North Carolina State. Utah will end its regular season next week at home against Florida. … Utah has won the last three duals with Georgia.

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