There is an exchange Danna Durante saves to share with Sarah Persinger before a routine.
The Georgia gymnastics head coach gets chills when she thinks about it, but it brings a smile to her face after they’ve done it.
“Who do you get to do this for?” Durante says to the junior.
“I do it for Him,” Persinger responds.
But it’s been nearly a year since coach and athlete have exchanged those words because it’s been that long since Persinger has been in the lineup for the No. 6 Gym Dogs.
That changed Saturday when Persinger competed for the first time this season, working her way into the fourth spot of the beam lineup and helping the Gym Dogs earn a 197.300-190.950 win over No. 20 Kentucky at Stegeman Coliseum.
“It was exciting to be able to see her out there. I was proud,” Durante said. “She was not perfect on everything, but she really worked hard and she fought hard and I think for her confidence that was huge. And for this team’s confidence that was huge.”
Persinger posted a 9.775 on beam, the only event she competed in Saturday and one that has given the Gym Dogs fits this season.
They have posted three rotation scores less than 49 all season, two of those coming on beam — a 48.975 at Oklahoma and a season-low 48.450 last week at Florida when freshmen Ashlyn Broussard and Morgan Reynolds both fell.
Durante shook up the lineup Friday after practice, putting sophomore Mary Beth Box in the leadoff position, Persinger in Reynolds’ stead and shifting the lineup’s order.
“They all work very, very hard, but some are more confident. Some are more intentional. That’s what we asked them to be — more intentional and more deliberate with every turn and we have some young ones that struggle with that,” Durante said. “Sarah understands that. Morgan, Kiera (Brown) and Ashlyn are all starting to understand that.”
Persinger’s consistent week in practice is what tipped the scales in her favor, and the Gym Dogs scored a 49.150 on beam Saturday.
“Sarah just kept getting better, kept getting better,” Durante said. “And the other ones also kept getting better, but Sarah has two years, All-American experience. She knows what it means to compete here, so I think it was time and she was ready for that opportunity.”
Said Persinger: “As soon as I landed by dismount I was like, ‘Can I go again?’ I mean, it was just so much fun to be back out there and I can’t wait until the next opportunity to do it again.”
Box said she embraced being in the leadoff position, earning a 9.850, her second-best score of the season.
“I knew Danna wouldn’t put me in there unless she had a reason and knew I had potential,” Box said. “I actually enjoyed it and hit my routine really well today. I was able to set the beam line off at a really good starting point, so I actually really enjoyed it.”
Saturday’s win marked the third time this season Georgia cracked 197, all coming at home, which isn’t lost on Durante.
“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,” she said.
Georgia (3-3) pumped out a 49.425 on vault and a 49.459 on bars, on which it is ranked No. 1 nationally, but showed signs of fatigue on beam and floor (49.275), Durante said. The Gym Dogs had four full days of training this week, a first for the season since they had back-to-back meets in back-to-back weekends to start the season.
“I’m pleased with what they did knowing they were a little tired,” Durante said. “Some of them said, ‘My legs feel a little tired.’ And I think we saw whether it was mental or physical fatigue. I think we saw a little bit of it in the second half, but I still think they handled it well. The mistakes were minor and we’ll go back and fix them and be ready for Alabama next week.”
Notes: Georgia sophomore Brittany Rogers, the team’s only all-around competitor, scored a season-low 39.175 Saturday. … Kentucky (4-3) was forced to count two falls — one on bars and one on beam. … Kaylan Earls scored a season-high 9.9 on floor as did Brandie Jay, who posted a 9.95. … For the sixth consecutive meet, Lindsey Cheek posted a 9.9 or higher on bars and vault. … Georgia competes at Alabama at 8:30 p.m. Friday.
No. 20 Kentucky: Vault — 48.850, Bars — 47.375, Beam — 45.725, Floor — 49.000
No. 6 Georgia: Vault — 49.425, Bars — 49.450, Beam — 49.150, Floor — 49.275
Georgia individual results
Vault: Chelsea Davis — 9.875, Ashlyn Broussard — 9.850, Cat Hires — 9.9, Brandie Jay — 9.850, Lindsey Cheek — 9.95, Brittany Rogers — 9.825
Bars: Jay — 9.9, Hires — 9.8, Kiera Brown — 9.1, Cheek — 9.95, Rogers — 9.875, Davis — 9.925
Beam: Mary Beth Box — 9.850, Broussard — 9.8, Rogers — 9.7, Sarah Persinger — 9.775, Cheek — 9.875, Kaylan Earls — 9.850
Floor: Earls — 9.9, Hires — 9.850, Morgan Reynolds — 9.8, Box — 9.7, Rogers — 9.775, Jay — 9.95
Rachel G. Bowers: twitter.com/rachelgbowers