#9 Georgia Preview

More of this, please.
The narrative surrounding Georgia has largely been one of negativity since they failed to make Super Six for the second consecutive year under Jay Clark, and that negativity contributed to their record low preseason ranking of #9.  While this ranking is not necessarily unfair or unwarranted, the Gymdogs have some bright spots for 2012, and there is reason for at least measured optimism as we head into the season.
This optimism comes largely from the fact that the team is improving.  It’s easy to forget that they were a much less talented and much more injured group in 2011 than they were in 2010, and yet the final result was much better in 2011.  While Jay receives more than his fair share of criticism in NCAA circles, he deserves credit for that and for doing what he could with a team that was just not Super Six-caliber.  While they did not perform up to their capabilities at championships, fourth place in their semifinal was a victory for this team given their injuries and the results from the previous year.  If they can actually stay healthy, they can expect much more than 195.450 in a national semifinal in 2012.
At a minimum, the team has to replace 7 routines from last season: 4 from Cassidy McComb and 3 from Hillary Mauro.  However, there are a number of competition routines from 2011 that have not graduated and yet still need to be replaced.  We see several early-lineup gymnasts across each of the apparatuses score in the 9.700s not because they’ve made mistakes but because they don’t really deserve to score any higher than that.  The 2012 season may be the time we finally accept that even though Christa Tanella was an elite and went to WOGA, she’s a 9.750 as an NCAA gymnast.  Can the team afford to be content with those scores again this year?  Not if the goal is higher than #9 in the country.
One gymnast who will be relied upon as a major replacer is Kaylan Earls, who had to sit out last season after tearing her Achilles.  She is a powerful tumbler, and it remains to be seen how well she will come back from that injury on vault and floor, but she deserves to make those lineups at her best.  We haven’t seen her compete in a while because of that injury, but form issues do keep her from standing out on beam and bars.  If she can prove solidity, though, Georgia will need her on beam.  They are trying to give her a Hindorff to help her be effective on bars, but if they can get Ding, Davis, Nuccio, and Worley up to scratch on that event, the team will not need Earls to be a star.

There is no question that Chelsea Davis should be competing the all-around for this team if everything goes to plan.  The biggest question with her is always injury, and she came into fall practice carrying yet another one – this time a strained elbow.  The bar routine above got her on the world team in 2010, and her skills there should earn a serious helping of huge scores in NCAA, as should her exceptional cleanliness across the board.  In fact, Davis’s biggest weakness as an elite was a lack of difficulty on the other events, often necessitated by the back injury that has prevented her from doing back handsprings. With the lower difficulty required in NCAA and the greater options for competitive routine competition, she should be able to accommodate and overcome this problem.  
Sarah Persinger doesn’t have any “Oooh, Aaah” routines the way Chelsea Davis does, and while there are weaknesses on each event that will prevent her from being a late lineup performer, she should prove to be valuable to the team.  When watching her gymnastics, it is easy to see a poise and line that could be the making of a very impressive NCAA gymnast in the future.  For now, she looks like she will be a solid 9.8 gymnast who will be in the hunt to replace some of the 9.7 routines mentioned above.

As we see, there is certainly the potential to both replace and improve upon the routines lost from last season, even if it means constructing some sort of gymnast-shaped hyperbaric chamber for Chelsea Davis (Georgia has hyperbaric chambers in their budget, right?).  Although, as important as getting these freshman routines ready for competition will be for Georgia, the single biggest determining factor in their success will be one Shayla Worley.  
(Please note the self-control utilized to refrain from posting the bar mount fall and instead focus on what she is capable of.  It was a struggle.  Make those struggles victories.)
We know that she’s 9.9-capable.  We’ve known since she was elite that she would be 9.9-capable on three events in NCAA, and yet over the course of two seasons she has not been able to get there with any kind of consistency.  Certainly, much of this is due to injury, but even more of her lack of effectiveness has been due to mental blocks and lapses.  She spent all last season struggling with a beam dismount that should theoretically be easy for her.  (Much like McCool’s bars in 2010, her beam dismount became a problem that materialized early but was never really solved by the postseason.  The ability to make changes and solve problems midseason is a necessary skill this coaching staff needs to cultivate for the future.)  Shayla is a junior now.  No one else is going to carry the load.  She has to be a scoring leader.   
In the event that Shayla remains on her current course, the onus will fall to seniors Kat Ding and Gina Nuccio to provide the highest scores.  While we certainly expect them to do that anyway (even though they are both injury factories themselves), they are not all-arounders and can only have so much impact on the success of the team.  It will take all the power of a consistent Shayla, healthy and high scoring freshmen, and a sturdy Noel Couch at the beginning of the lineups to make this team as successful as it needs to be.  There are quite a few ifs in that group, and if I had to bet, I would not bet on Georgia being among the most successful teams at championships (though I would expect them to get there).  Still, all of those ifs ensure that this will be a fun journey to watch unfold.