One of the longest waits of Danna Durante’s life will come to an end today as Georgia officially opens its 2013 gymnastics season.
Georgia gymnastics coach poses for a portrait on Thursday in the gymnastics training facility.
The Gym Dogs will complete the biggest change in the program in three decades when they take the floor for the first time with Durante as the head coach.
“I’m ready, I’m really excited,” Durante said. “It’s a long preseason, so there’s a lot of buildup. The team has been working incredibly hard and anticipating this weekend. They look good. They look really good. We’ve been looking good. Our task right now is to help them enjoy what they’re doing and remember that it’s a process.”
No. 11-ranked Georgia will host No. 4-ranked Oklahoma in the first dual of the season at 4 p.m. today at Stegeman Coliseum. It will be the first time since 1984 that the Gym Dogs will begin a season with a staff that has no direct connection with longtime coach Suzanne Yoculan.
“Naturally, it’s going to be different because there’s a different coaching staff,” Georgia junior Lindsey Cheek said. “It’s not necessarily the Georgia way that we’re used to. But it’s nice to see them get that Georgia atmosphere and Georgia feeling under their belts. I’ve been a Georgia fan my whole life and I know how it is. I can’t speak for them. They did coach at other schools. But they’re kind of getting into the Georgia way now. You can’t really expect it to be the same because it’s a different coaching staff all together. Bits and
pieces of it are the same. The want and will to win and the Georgia pride is always there. It will continue. They had it from the start but its not the same as actually being here and getting it under your belt.”
Durante replaces former Yoculan assistant Jay Clark, who resigned after the Gym Dogs missed the Super Six for the third straight year with him as head coach. Durante took over a program that had under-performed in its biggest meets of the year since winning the last of its five straight national titles in 2009. So the first thing Durante did was address the team’s shaky confidence.
“Absolutely that’s been a focus to rebuild confidence in this group,” Durante said. “I think they’re a confident group and they’ve shown glimpses of that. There’s been days and weeks and stretches of time when you see that. But you also see when that kind of fades a little. What we’ve seen that in these last few days coming back from the break and we’ve had to tell them, ‘Look, we’ve worked so hard all this time, don’t start doubting it now. You were ready back in November. We’re just making tweaks at this point so you’re ready.’”
Durante was a longtime assistant at Nebraska under Dan Kendig. She was head coach one season at California before being named head coach at Georgia last spring. Durante filled out her staff with former LSU assistant Philip Ogletree and former Denver assistant Jay Hogue.
“I think our level of readiness for the first meet really surpasses other years,” Georgia senior Shayla Worley said. “We started routines earlier and we’ve done so many more routines that we feel more ready. Sometimes I feel like before when we went into that first meet we were wondering if we could pull it together when we get out there. But this season, I really feel like we’re ready. We know what we can do, so lets just go out there and do it. It’s refreshing to lay down at night and know I’ve got a meet in a week and I’m ready instead of worrying because there’s a week to go and you still can’t do this routine.”
Durante has not make major changes in the Georgia formula. But she has injected new ideas and a different kind of enthusiasm that has helped energize the program going into the first meet.
“I think that changing coaches has been kind of refreshing for the team,” Worley said. “The way that we prepared is different. Conditioning has been different. It’s been more gymnastics-based conditioning and they’re gymnastics-specific. Most of these things we haven’t done since club gymnastics. That’s really been different. I think you can see it in our physical appearances. We look a little different. I think you can attribute that to our type of conditioning.”