Gym Dogs ‘very confident’ heading to West Coast for Regionals

Georgia has spent most of the season among the underdogs.

Gym Dogs 'very confident' heading to West Coast for Regionals
Roger Clarkson

But this weekend in the NCAA regionals, the fourth-ranked Gym Dogs will be a prohibitive favorite to qualify for nationals.

“We feel a lot of momentum,” Georgia senior Christa Tanella said. “It’s encouraging because you feel like you’re peaking at the right time. We haven’t peaked too soon. We feel that we’ve got more room to improve and more to put into it during practice. We feel like we’ve got nowhere to go but up from here.”

Georgia will be the top seed in the Corvallis Regional, which starts at 7 p.m. at Gill Coliseum in Corvallis, Ore. In addition to Georgia, No. 10 Oregon State, No. 16 Arkansas, No. 21 Boise State plus unranked Arizona State and California will compete. The top two teams qualify for the NCAA national championships on April 19-21 at UCLA.

“It’s great momentum coming into regionals this weekend,” Georgia senior Noel Couch said. “But at the same time, this is what we intended to do. We’ve been focusing the last few weeks on really kicking it up a notch and that’s what we’ve shown out on the competition floor. We want to continue to do that.”

Georgia is riding its biggest wave of momentum of the season. The Gym Dogs have recorded the three highest scores of the year in its last three meets, two of which came away from the friendly confines of Stegeman Coliseum. The Southeastern Conference score doesn’t include a penalty for a lost appeal.

“If anybody’s looking at the overall season for any team, if you’re performing your best at the end of the season it means that you did things right,” Georgia senior Shayla Worley said. “That means you’re about to peak or you are peaking. Those are all great signs. Not only does it feel good to have our best performances really recently. But it’s also a great indicator that we’re all peaking at the right time.”

Georgia started its late-season run by scoring 197.65 to beat then-No. 7 ranked Utah in the Gym Dogs’ home finale. The next week Georgia went on the road and posted 197.8 points to beat North Carolina State. Two weeks ago Georgia scored 197.625 points on the floor and finished fourth at the SEC Championships. Georgia took a 0.3 deduction after losing a video appeal and was officially credited with 197.325 points at SECs. The deduction did not affect the Gym Dogs’ place in the final standings.

“I think we feel really good,” first-year Georgia coach Danna Durante said. “We feel a lot of momentum and a lot of confidence. They should be feeling very comfortable walking into this regional and just making sure that they approach it like they did at N.C. State and against Utah and SECs. If they just do their job then they’ll be making plans to go to L.A.”

Georgia has been prone to up-and-down performances at the end of seasons in recent years.

Last year, Georgia scores 197.7 against UCLA but hit 199.575 the next meet against Michigan. They scored 197.375 in the regular-season finale against North Carolina State but had 196.575 to finish third at SECs. Georgia started with 197.1 to win the Auburn Regional but scored just 196.5 to finish fifth at NCAA preliminaries and failed to reach the Super Six for the third year in a row. When the current group of seniors were freshmen, Georgia lost a tie for second and failed to advance out of regionals for the first time in 26 years.

“I feel they’re confident and their gymnastics is very confident,” Durante said. “We’re having a lot of conversations about where their focus needs to be so we don’t assume anything. Certainly when you’re talking about a past that you’re not a part of, you never want to assume that they’re in a good place or a bad place. We have a lot of conversations and ask a lot of questions to see where they are and then we tell them how they should approach it. We only have an eight- or nine-month relationship with these athletes and not years so we want to make sure we know where their minds are at.”

After winning five consecutive national championships from 2005-2009, Georgia has finished first in a regional just once in the last three years, in 2012 at Auburn and Oregon State was the No. 2 team. In 2011, Georgia hosted a regional but finished second to UCLA. In 2010 Georgia finished behind both Missouri and Oregon State and did not advance to NCAAs for the first time since 1983.

“It is something that you learn from,” Worley said. “You learn that you’re not invincible which is a valuable lesson. As a freshman you kind of think, ‘We’re Georgia. We’re going to win all the time.’ That really isn’t the case. But that’s in the past and it’s not something we’re focusing on or thinking about. We learn from it and take the positives but those years are really irrelevant and have nothing to do with us now.”

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Georgia’s odds to win the national championship are now 8/1, according to Bovada. They were 14/1 a week ago.

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