Cat Hires wants the Gym Dogs to stay in their bubble.
That bubble has taken the No. 5 Georgia gymnastics team to Norman, Okla., Stanford, Calif., and Gainesville, Fla., but the Gym Dogs have returned to Athens each time failing to break the 197 mark.
“We just have to use that noise and that excitement to our advantage. Even though they’re not cheering for us, we can still turn it around and say they are cheering for us or block it out. Whatever helps each individual person,” Hires said. “Just stay in our bubble.”
The Gym Dogs (3-3, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) came tantalizingly close at Florida, posting a 196.700, but fell short after having to count a fall on beam. They average a 197.283 at Stegeman Coliseum, but a 196.45 on the road.
“We need to take this and go on the road next week and be able to crack that 197 on the road because it’s great when you do it at home, but people start to become very skeptical when it’s only at home,” coach Danna Durante said after the Gym Dogs’ win over Kentucky a week ago.
Durante said even at home the Gym Dogs are missing out on 10ths of points on all events, but are finally adjusting to a semi-normal practice schedule after having back-to-back meets in consecutive weekends to start the season. They have another chance to crack that 197 mark on the road when they compete against No. 7 Alabama (3-2, 2-1 SEC) at 8:30 p.m. today.
“It’s not something that we dwell on. It’s something we know is going to happen, and we need to do our job (today),” Durante said Thursday before the team took a charter plane to Tuscaloosa. “It’s just a matter of time for us to continue to pound away at those little things.”
Senior Kaylan Earls said the freshmen who have been in the Gym Dogs’ lineup consistently — Morgan Reynolds and Ashlyn Broussard — are still getting used to the travel schedule and competing on the road.
“When we are away, we try to create as much as possible to make it feel like we’re at home and we do all the same rituals and circle up and just try to create that confidence and that stability with traveling on the road and being at home,” she said. “… We are totally capable of doing that and we strive to do that every meet. It’s just a matter of coming out strong on every event and remain consistent throughout the meet.”
Senior Lindsey Cheek has recorded a 9.9 or higher on 13 of her 18 routines this season and has claimed 11 individual titles. Cheek has scored a 9.9 or higher on every vault and bars routine this season.
Though Cheek said she doesn’t like to think about the streak, Durante said she tries to take the pressure off the Watkinsville native.
“I think there are several others behind her, and that’s helpful,” Durante said. “It takes the pressure off of her. The longer that it happens, the more I worry about interviews and all of that. I want her to just compete free every single time and she’s been able to do that. That is absolutely something that we want to be able to take the focus off of her she models it in practice and she’s delivering in competition.”
Earls posted her highest beam score of the season (9.95) against Florida. That came in the anchor spot after the first two Gym Dogs on the event fell and while two Florida gymnasts posted back-to-back 10s on floor.
Durante said Earls, who averages a 9.779 on beam, has a tendency to step up she knows a teammate made a mistake earlier in the lineup.
“What I want to continue to work with her on is when everybody in front of you has done their job, you get to just be icing on the cake as Chelsea (Davis) likes to say on bars,” Durante said last week. “I want her to be able to find that place. She found it last year, and she’s one also that trains very well. I think it’s just a matter of time before she really hits her stride.”
Earls said she enjoys the anchor position because she trusts herself to compete last for Georgia.
“You have to stay warm because it’s so long, you have five other people ahead of you so you’re just trying to stay in your zone and not just slack off and not focus,” she said. “You’re over there trying to make sure that you’re confident and you’re going to go out there and put up your best. I think it’s just going out there and knowing that you’ve done all the numbers in practice and just trusting yourself is what helps.”
Sarah Persinger, who competed last week on beam for the first time all season, will compete on floor today in exhibition, Durante said. The junior, who scored a 9.775 on beam a week ago, remains in the beam lineup against Alabama.
“Sarah had a great week this week,” Durante said.
Georgia boasts the No. 1 bars team in the country, averaging a 49.438, and has the top bars competitor in Cheek, who has scored a 9.95, 9.925 and four 9.9s this season. Junior Chelsea Davis is ranked third in the country on bars, averaging a 9.908.
Rachel G. Bowers: twitter.com/rachelgbowers