‚ÄòWe’re insane‚Äô: Gym Dogs take on the best of the best

The No. 6 Gym Dogs will have faced each of the top five teams in the country after today’s 9 p.m. meet at Utah.

Georgia (6-4, 3-2 Southeastern Conference) has the nation’s toughest schedule, having already competed against No. 1 LSU, No. 2 Oklahoma, No. 3 Florida and No. 4 Alabama, compiling a 1-3 record against those teams. (The win came over LSU in Georgia’s first home meet of the season.)

“We’re insane,” coach Danna Durante joked of Georgia’s schedule Thursday before the team headed west for its final regular-season meet.

Durante said the advantage of the tough schedule is knowing what the Gym Dogs will face once the postseason comes, which begins March 22 with the SEC championships in Birmingham, Ala. But first the Gym Dogs have to hurdle the Utes on the road, which hasn’t been very kind to Georgia this season. The Gym Dogs have just one win outside of Stegeman Coliseum this season, coming against Auburn on Feb. 21. Here are five things to watch as Georgia takes on No. 5 Utah:

15,000 strong
Florida‚Äôs 10,000-plus fans at O’Connell Center were the biggest crowd Georgia performed in front of this season. But Utah have averaged 14,206 fans through five home meets this season.

“The bigger the crowd, the more energy and the better the performance,” sophomore Mary Beth Box said. “It is going to be different for it being hostile like the bigger crowds, but I think we can use that to motivate us … fuel us and feed off the energy.

Durante said her team’s meet at Utah is just another chance to help soothe the road struggles that have plagued the Gym Dogs, especially on balance beam. Durante noted Georgia led Florida and Alabama through three rotations, but late mistakes cost Georgia.

“I think it’s important for us to compete strongly on every event and just show the heart that this team has,” Durante said. “Certainly there’s been glimpses of that all year and glimpses of greatness, but I think it’s important that we show our heart and we show our fight.”

Postseason on the horizon
The SEC championships are in a week, followed by an NCAA regional in Athens on March 5 and NCAA preliminaries on April 18.

A complete meet and a win at Utah would be the ideal springboard into the postseason for the Gym Dogs.

“It’s big. All meets are used to gain confidence and to gain trust in your team and I think it’s just another stone on our path, as we like to say,” senior Cat Hires said. “It’s just another building block.”

Last season marked Georgia’s return to the NCAA Super Six for the first time since 2009. The Gym Dogs average a 196.96 and are ranked No. 1 on bars.

“It’s not really focusing on posting a big score, but just showing what we’ve been doing and what we have the potential to do,” Box said. “And this meet is important because it’ll set the tone for postseason.”

Hires coming off a career day
Hires, one of three seniors on Georgia’s roster, posted career-highs on bars and vault against Denver a week ago and earned the first 10 of her career from one judge that helped lead to a 9.95 on bars.

“It’s only boosted my confidence,” she said. “Just to know that I’m capable of doing it and I knew I was, I just hadn’t done it yet. But now that I’ve done it, it just makes me all that more confident and ready to go out there again.”

Added Durante: “Knowing that she’s not done and she’s got more in the tank, she should have lots of confidence and I believe she does on all three of those events.”

A high bar
Georgia has the No. 1 bars lineup in the country, averaging a 49.48 this season, and has the top-ranked individual gymnast on bars in Chelsea Davis.

The junior has anchored the stellar lineup all season and has a 9.94 RQS heading to Utah.

“I come in and I do my job no matter what I’m ranked and hopefully my job in the gym will reflect on the rankings, but really it doesn’t matter until the end,” Davis said.

Senior Lindsey Cheek is ranked third on bars and sophomore Brittany Rogers is ranked fifth.

Addressing beam, floor
Though Georgia broke 197 last week, it didn’t come without a few struggles on the last two rotations.

The Gym Dogs had to count a fall on floor after Box and sophomore Brandie Jay both slipped at the end of tumbling passes, leading to a 48.725.

Durante said she tried to not let the team dwell on last week, but that a light week of training and some new mental approaches to the final rotations hopefully wake up the Gym Dogs’ confidence on the two events. She also said Georgia’s bars and vault scores set expectations high.

“Almost anything else in comparison to that doesn’t feel as good,” she said. “… I think that there’s some things in their minds that they had to kind of clean house a little bit. I think the few things that didn’t go quite right are by people who haven’t been making mistakes … We have what it takes, we just set the standard pretty darn high on bars and vault.”

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