No. 6 Gym Dogs punch ticket to NCAA Nationals

With a trip to Birmingham on the line, the No. 6 Gym Dogs punched their ticket to the NCAAs with a second-place finish at the Athens Regional on Saturday.

No. 6 Gym Dogs punch ticket to NCAA Nationals
Ethan Burch

Georgia’s final score of 196.375 was second to No. 7 Michigan, which finished with a team total of 196.750.

“It’s not what we wanted today,” senior Lindsey Cheek said. “We were a little shaky on beam and floor, but we qualified and that’s what our goal was.”

Sophomore Brandie Jay opened for the Gym Dogs on uneven bars following a first rotation bye, setting the tone for Georgia with a 9.9. A boisterous applause from the Stegeman crowd was enough to keep the momentum going for senior Cat Hires, who matched Jay’s performance with a 9.9 of her own. Georgia showed no chance of slowing down on the bars until Chelsea Davis faced a hiccup in her routine, leading to her score of 9.2.

The Gym Dogs’ leadoff competitors gave Georgia some insurance, though.

“We knew we could go out there and set a tone on bars and then finish it up on vault how we did, and so I was pretty proud of the bars and vault team for doing that,” Cheek said.

Mary Beth Box performed first on the beam for Georgia, earning a score of 9.775. Athens Christian School alumna Morgan Reynolds upped the ante to follow, notching a 9.85 in her first event of the day. Kiera Brown also added a 9.775 on beam, but Cheek didn’t have similar luck as a rarely seen stumble in her beam routine resulted in a 9.25 for the Watkinsville native. Fellow senior Kaylan Earls too caught herself off balance on the beam, sticking her with a 9.225. Ashlyn Broussard was the last Gym Dog to compete on beam, closing out the third rotation with a strong 9.825.

With another bye in the fourth rotation and a team score of 98.075, Georgia had a moment to regain composure before moving on to the floor exercise. The only school with a higher score after two events was Michigan with 98.775.

Junior Sarah Persinger opened for Georgia in the floor exercise with a 9.175. In need of a boost, Georgia got one from Reynolds who turned the Gym Dogs’ fortunes around with a performance worthy of a 9.825.

In the last round of competition, the only thing standing between Georgia and a trip to the NCAA Preliminaries was the vault.

“Obviously vault and bars continue to be very strong for us so I was excited that we did a good job there,” Georgia head coach Danna Durante said.

Hires bounced back from her 9.475 on the floor exercise. She and Cheek made their last events in their home gym count — a 9.875 for Hires, a 9.95 for Cheek. Those performances combined with Jay’s 9.9 and a few others made for a team total of 49.425 on vault.

The Gym Dogs travel to Birmingham, Ala. for the NCAA Preliminaries on April 18.

“I think that if we do our job, we’re in Super Six,” Durante said. “Just based on what I saw and the mistakes that we made and we were still only four tenths down; I feel like if we do our job we’re in Super Six, but we absolutely have to do our job on all four events, not just two.”

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