Danna Durante likes where her No. 6 Gym Dogs are heading into today’s Southeastern Conference championships.
Mary Beth Box performs on the beam as the Georgia Gym Dogs take on Denver at Stegeman Coliseum on Saturday, March 8, 2014, in Athens, Ga.
They posted a season-high road score last week at Utah (a 197.6), are seeded fourth for SECs and have seen six of the seven conference opponents.
“This team is believing in themselves and they do bring that underdog, chip-on-their-shoulder attitude into the meet. I’m just excited to watch them compete and watch them fight and watch them battle,” Durante said via phone Friday from Birmingham, Ala., where the two sessions are being held at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. the BJCC Arena. The Gym Dogs (6-5, 4-2 SEC) compete in the evening session against LSU, Florida and Alabama.
The chip on the Gym Dogs’ collective shoulder is a good thing, senior Kaylan Earls said.
“I think it motivates us to continue to want to go out and go hard and not hold back at all and just prove everybody wrong,” Earls said.
Georgia boasts a 197.2 regional qualifying score and the top-ranked bars team of Brandie Jay, Cat Hires, Kiera Brown, Lindsey Cheek, Brittany Rogers and Chelsea Davis. It will start on floor and follow it up with vault, bars and end on beam.
Durante said she and the coaching staff have tried to let the gymnasts rest this week so they are fresh for today’s competition.
“We’ve worked very diligently this week to make sure that we do what we need to do, but we also rest the athletes,” she said. “As a staff, we’ve been very mindful of that this week, so that coming into (today), their legs are rested, they’re rested.”
The set-up at the BJCC Arena forces gymnasts to adjust to the elevated level of the equipment.
The equipment is raised off the ground on individual podiums so fans and spectators can see the action better, but it makes for a more bouncy surface.
“I think it’s important to make sure we are comfortable just so we don’t hold back at all going into the meet on Saturday,” sophomore Brittany Rogers said. “… It’s hard to make excuses for the events because the beam is always going to be 4 inches and the bars are always going to be the same amount apart, so it’s just more of a mental game that you’re on a podium and you’re kind of higher than you were before in the past meets this year.”
Each team, including the Gym Dogs, was able to get a practice day in Friday to help adjust to the equipment.
“Some of the freshmen haven’t been on podium before, so it’s just important to feel the different movements and the equipment,” senior Cat Hires said. “It’s just nice to have the practice day.”
Rogers, the Gym Dogs’ lone all-around competitor, posted a career-high score at Utah last week with a 39.6 and, for the second consecutive meeting, scored at least a 9.9 on three of four events.
Durante said Rogers has found a balance between competing intensely and relaxed at the same time. Rogers’ more difficult tumbling passes on floor, which were installed in her routine about four weeks ago, and her work on her landings has helped her start to peak as the postseason starts, Durante said.
“I’m trying not to let it get to me too much,” Rogers said. “It’s a good confidence boost definitely going into SECs, but I still have to work for it.”
Finishing on beam
The Gym Dogs will finish at SECs today on beam, an event that has been a struggle for them this season, though they have gone four meets without having to count a fall and average a 49.09 on the event.
But Durante expects the Gym Dogs to hit on beam just fine at SECs after averaging a 49.24 through the last four meets.
“We’re very strong as a team and we’ve been talking about that,” the second-year coach said. “We’ve been in positions all season long on the road in some very tough places and finishing on beam and we’ve gotten better at it each time we’ve done it.”
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