The Georgia gymnastics team’s strength through most of the year had been its ability to post plenty of high scores no matter where it performed.
The Gym Dogs’ season-long consistency made their sudden falls in the most important meet of the season sting so much.
Yet Georgia’s season ended in the preliminary round of the NCAA Championships last weekend at Duluth’s Gwinnett Arena. The Gym Dogs hope to use the sour taste of six falls in five routines during their last meet to fuel next year.
“It’s going to spark a fire,” Georgia sophomore Lindsey Cheek said. “It’s going to propel us into next year. We’re not going to dwell on it. We’re going to use this feeling to get us a little umph into our next year and our next season.”
Georgia went into the NCAA championships as the No. 5-ranked team in the nation and came off of its highest road score of the season in the regional at Auburn.
The Gym Dogs had not counted a fall all year until they had to absorb two from balance beam in Friday’s NCAA preliminaries which knocked them out of the Super Six. Southeastern Conference rival Alabama won its second straight national title and Georgia ended up 11th in the final standings, its lowest ranking of the year.
“This team’s consistency all year long stands out about this team,” Georgia coach Jay Clark said. “That’s what made (Friday) so painful and that’s what made it hurt so bad. From Day 1 we had been on a steady climb. … These kids had done everything right. It’s painful and I think it should be. I think we all should be hurting about it. I told them that we need to hold this emotion a little bit and let it fuel our fire and renew our determination.”
The season’s biggest highlight for the Gym Dogs was Kat Ding. She had spent much of her sophomore and junior seasons either injured or recovering from injury. She won the NCAA uneven parallel bars title last year despite being slowed by a stress reaction in her femur so this year Ding started the season unheralded. But she closed her career with two more individual event championships, a repeat title on bars and a surprise win on floor exercise which has had always been one of her weakest events. Ding also finished second in NCAA individual all-around and third on vault. But Ding was a senior so filling her shoes will be a major project next year.
“You don’t replace her,” Clark said. “You try to grow another one. You hope the freshmen can come in – right now they look very good – hopefully they’ll pan out and you can get very close to those scores. But you don’t replace the consistency that Kat showed for us this year. You hope that somebody else steps to the plate.”
Georgia’s final night of competition clouds what was otherwise a solid season. Georgia faced five top-three ranked opponents in duals and beat two of them, UCLA and Arkansas . Noel Couch has been Georgia’s most durable athlete and has competed in all-around in a school record 27 straight meets. Preseason back spasms shelved Cheek early but her training caught up to her teammates in time to finish seventh at NCAAs and earn her second straight All-American honor on vault. Freshmen Chelsea Davis and Sarah Persinger became major contributors and Davis became an All-American on vault. Kaylan Earls showed no ill effects after missing her freshman season with a ruptured Achilles tendon to become a three-event performer.
“We know that we have moved in the right direction each of the last three years,” Clark said. “The final result doesn’t say that and we understand that. But we know that things were done right this year and these kids have bought in. It was a special team.”