Gym Dogs’ Tanella puts mistakes behind, reaping rewards in senior season

Christa Tanella’s college career has seen many booms and busts.

But Tanella’s senior season so far has shaped into probably her best as her scores have climbed and her mistakes have diminished.

“It’s really been a journey, and with any journey, you’re going to have your obstacles to overcome,” Tanella said. “I’ve had my emotional highs and my emotional lows. I’ve had my career highs and my career lows. It’s just been a journey that’s consisted in a lot of growing and a lot of challenges that made me stronger.”

No. 6 Georgia (5-4, 3-0 in the Southeastern Conference) travels to No. 18 Kentucky (4-3, 2-2). First flip is at 7 p.m. today at Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, Ky. Georgia comes off of its highest score of the year with 197.5 points to beat two-time defending champion Alabama last week. After today’s meet against Kentucky, Georgia will begin preparation for No. 1 Florida next week.

Tanella has been one of the most enigmatic Gym Dogs the last three seasons as mistakes in high-profile meets overshadowed her contributions. Tanella led off Georgia’s first event at the 2012 NCAA preliminaries and feel off of the uneven parallel bars twice. In 2011 Tanella fell off of the balance in the NCAA preliminary round.

“We had a meeting early on and I was very blunt with her,” first-year Georgia coach Danna Durante said. “I asked her some very tough questions and she gave me the standard answer that I thought I would get, but I didn’t really see her heart in that answer.

“So I just kept challenging her to make the most of this opportunity. Regardless of what she had felt about the last three years, she had a year left and then her gymnastics career was done. What did she want to look back and see and feel and taste and be able to be proud of. I didn’t care what she’d done the first three years, she had a clean slate and we were going to work with her and push her as hard as we possibly could.”

Tanella’s new start with Durante has paid off so far. She scored a career-high 9.9 on floor exercise in the Metroplex Challenge. And last week in Georgia’s dual win against Alabama, she contributed a 9.825 on bars and a 9.875 on floor.

“I’m just really glad to have had Danna this year to come alongside me,” Tanella said. “You’re seeing the fruit of her work in my gymnastics now. It’s been interesting because there’s a lot of fear that goes into your last year. Sometimes you feel that it’s your last chance so you get wrapped up last-time things. You can put a lot of pressure on yourself and it kind of gets in your head sometimes if you let it.”

Tanella has competed on bars and floor in every meet so far this season and not committed a major mistake in either event.

“There is such a big difference in her from last year,” Georgia senior Kati Breazeal said. “The enthusiasm and the passion she has for this program, she exudes it in everything she does. She’s really taken on the leadership role. She mentors the younger girls and underclassmen. She’s been a great friend for everyone on the team.”

A CLOSER LOOK

GEORGIA AT KENTUCKY

When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Memorial Coliseum, Lexington, Ky.
Webcast: georgiadogs.com
TV: Tape delay on FSSO at 9 p.m. on Feb. 12.
Records: Georgia is 5-4, 3-0 in the SEC; Kentucky is 4-3, 2-2.
Rankings: Georgia is No. 6, Kentucky is No. 16.
Athletes to watch:
Georgia: Kaylan Earls hit 9.95 on beam last week and was named the SEC’s Specialist of the Week. … Chelsea Davis is ranked No. 1 in the nation on bars with a 9.908 average. … Shayla Worley is ranked No. 11 in the country on beam with a 9.871 average.
Kentucky: Audrey Harrison tied for the all-around title with a score of 39.225 last week against LSU. … Sara Shipley had a pair of 9.8s against LSU on beam and bars. … Kayla Sienkowski set a career high with a 9.825 on beam against LSU.
Series record: Georgia leads 73-0.
Last meeting: Georgia beat Kentucky 196.575-194.350 in a dual last season and finished ahead of the Wildcats in the 2012 SEC Championships. Season at a glance: Georgia scored a season-high 197.5 to beat Alabama for the first time since 2009 last week in Stegeman Coliseum. Kentucky scored 195.25 in a loss against LSU last weekend.
Noteworthy: Kaylan Earls was the first Gym Dog in history to win the SEC’s Specialist of the Week award. This is the first year of the award. … Georgia’s Noel Couch competed for the first time this season last week as she scored 9.875 on both beam and floor. She missed the first five meets with a thumb injury. … Georgia has set season highs in its last two duals, 197.0 against Stanford on Jan. 21 and 197.5 against Alabama last week. … Lindsey Cheek has scored at least 9.9 on vault in four of six meets this season. … Georgia freshmen Brittany Rogers and Brandie Jay scored at least 9.9 on four of their combined six events last week. … Georgia head coach Danna Durante and Kentucky head coach Tim Garrison were assistants under Dan Kendig at Nebraska. Durante was there 2003-11 and Garrison was there 2007-11.
— Roger Clarkson

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