Georgia’s recent history has been the tale of three eras. The Suzanne era concluded with that preposterous run of five consecutive championships, finishing in 2009 and giving Georgia a legacy of winning that will hang over the head of every coach to follow like an anvil waiting to drop. That anvil dropped on Jay Clark after three straight years of missing out on Super Six and under-performing the talent of his roster, and now Danna Durante enters her third season in charge having led the Gym Dogs back to Super Six in her first two seasons. Last year’s 5th-place finish was the strongest for the team since the last title in 2009.
Georgia has been on an upward trajectory ever since the doom in 2010 when they missed nationals, but now the question is whether that trajectory can continue and how high they can go. For 2015, it will be challenging to improve on last year’s finish in a meaningful way given the quality of teams at the very top and the natural ebb and flow of routines (including the serious and profound lack of Lindsey Cheek this season), but maintaining the results from the last few seasons seems doable. Georgia finished 6th in 2013 and 5th and 2014, and fighting it out with the Pac-12 teams for those Super Six spots in 2015 as well is a realistic outlook.
Once again this year, Georgia will not be dependent on one or two big AAers who dominate rotations with 9.9s at the end of every lineup. A few people can and will do the all-around—in particular it would be nice to see Brittany Rogers get back there, but Georgia’s success will rely much more on gymnasts who can be the big star on two events. To put it in the most irritatingly cliched way positive, it will be a real team effort this season. The positive is that they’re probably less susceptible to being totally devastated by a key injury, but it also means that a number of gymnasts have to be in form at the same time for them to be as successful as they need to be. There’s no one big lineup savior.
Returning lineup — Brandie Jay (9.910 RQS), Brittany Rogers (9.885), Chelsea Davis (9.880), Ashlyn Broussard (9.795), Morgan Reynolds (no RQS)
Georgia’s vault should be in acceptable shape this season because of the exceptional quality at the back of the lineup. Brittany Rogers still needs to come back, but once she does, she and Brandie Jay both have 1.5s that regularly score 9.900, with 9.950 a fairly likely outcome depending on the landing/arena. Those two can keep pace with any team. In some of the preseason videos, Jay appeared to be training an Omelianchik all of a sudden. The 1.5 is the better option for her, so I’m glad they’ve been able to bring that vault back recently even after the trauma of the accidental DTY last year. I’m still not really sure what happened there. Nor is anyone.
Because of Jay and Rogers, Georgia is 49.4-capable on vault, but that will depend on developing depth and finding the supporting scores so that those two don’t have to do all the work. To hang with the top teams, the Gym Dogs probably need to add one more 9.900 and then a couple more 9.850s in the early spots. In spite of Lauren Johnson being out, there should still be some options once various people return from their minor injuries and issues. Chelsea Davis has a very clean, secure vault and has excelled for Georgia early in the order for the last three years. It may be time for a promotion so that she’s less likely to get stuck with some dumb 9.825 (like for the above routine) that they can’t afford. The freshmen Gigi Marino and Natalie Vaculik will be possibilities, Ashlyn Broussard and Kiera Brown have been vaulting so far in preseason, and Morgan Reynolds also vaulted for 9.775s in the leadoff spot at the end of last year. The gymnasts exist, but they still need to prove they can get 9.850-9.875s and not just meh 9.800s. We’ll see. Most teams are trying to find 9.9s on events. Georgia has the 9.9s. It’s the rest of the routines that they need to take care of.
Returning lineup — Chelsea Davis (9.945), Brittany Rogers (9.920), Kiera Brown (9.905), Brandie Jay (9.895)
Georgia has bars under control. In spite of losing Cheek, who developed into a phenomenal bars worker by the end of her career, the Gym Dogs are in the fortunate position of returning a very strong contingent of bars workers in Davis, Rogers, Brown, and Jay, all of whom finished last season among the nation’s top 20. They are the 9.9 quadruplets, which means we can expect the 49.4s to fly all over the place and 49.5+ to be a thing (they went as high as 49.7 last year, so sure). Another year of Georgia being ranked #1 on bars is very believable. Really, the major question about this group is whether Chelsea Davis will finally get her 10 this year.
In spite of not performing her VACULIK GIENGER (TM), Natalie Vaculik should still be an important and lovely addition to the team, who can perhaps make VACULIK JAEGER a similar phenomenon, though we already have a lot of great jaegers in NCAA. Also, don’t forget about Rachel Schick, who has been performing bars so far this preseason. She has struggled with injuries for three years now and missed her freshman season completely, but through all her leg injuries, she has turned bars into a strength and looks to be yet another contender for strong scores. This is a very talented lineup with what I consider the best release skills in the nation top-to-bottom. Don’t worry about bars.
Returning lineup — Brittany Rogers (9.865), Mary Beth Box (9.855), Morgan Reynolds (9.785), Ashlyn Broussard (9.660), Kiera Brown (no RQS).
We’ve heard the same story for too many seasons in a row with Georgia. They begin the meet with two amazing rotations and sit on 198 pace at the halfway point, only to have it all fall to pieces on the final two events. Suddenly the meet is a 196.500, and everyone is left wondering how that happened. It happened because of mistakes on beam and 9.7s on floor.
The mistakes had to be somewhat expected in 2014. It was a year of experimentation. With injuries and graduation to contend with, a number of new people needed to come into the lineup and show their wares (the postseason lineup featured four people who had never competed beam before last season), giving the rotation a completely new look. The 2015 season could end up being another year of new-look Georgia beam. The two scoring leaders from last season (Cheek and Earls) are gone, and many of the essential routines look to come from people who did not compete in that fairly inexperienced postseason lineup last year. Brittany Rogers was out injured, but her creative composition and world-class execution should be the star of this year’s rotation. Sarah Persinger also struggled to come back from injury last season but is beautiful, if terrifying, on beam. They need her back on this event. (Both years of Durante’s tenure so far have featured a senior who suddenly performed far above her previous capacity—Tanella in 2013, Cheek in 2014—and I would love it to be Persinger in 2015.)
Canadian freshmen should also figure in prominent places, with Natalie Vaculik and Vivi Babalis both currently making the preseason lineup. Babalis should be one of the pleasant, unheralded surprises on Georgia’s team this year, and Natalie Vaculik is a Vaculik. Case closed. All these new-look options aren’t to say that some of the returners won’t figure, because they will. Kiera Brown and Mary Beth Box in particular emerged as very strong competitors last season, and Broussard has yet-unrealized possibilities. There are some really exciting choices here that I hope pan out. That doesn’t mean I’m not scared to death by this rotation, because I absolutely am, but it could be quite an engaging group if we’re getting the likes of Rogers, Vaculik, Babalis, Brown, and Persinger all at the same time. If it’s a disaster, at least it will be a beautiful disaster.
Returning lineup — Brandie Jay (9.900), Brittany Rogers (9.860), Mary Beth Box (9.850), Morgan Reynolds (9.840), Ashlyn Broussard (no RQS)
Floor was a pseudo-struggle for Georgia for most of the season last year. I say a pseudo-struggle because it wasn’t like they were falling all over the place. They had a couple bad meets, but more often they were the victim of 9.850s and 49.2s, which is not bad enough to be bad but not good enough to be good. It was an unremarkable floor rotation, which is kind of the kiss of death. Brandie Jay can usually give the team a useful anchor score (though she does suffer from occasional weird landing syndrome), but everyone has a 9.9 at the end of the floor lineup. The best teams will have at least three of them, which is why floor remains a concern for Georgia. Aside from Jay, and Rogers if she gets back on floor, these have not been big routines or guaranteed 9.9s. When Florida, LSU, and Oklahoma have a whole rotation of 9.9s, that becomes the expectation for everyone else.
That’s why Ashlyn Broussard emerging as a significant contributor, not just a lineup member, is important. I still maintain she has a big routine in her with that DLO and needs to show it this year, and freshman GiGi Marino is the same way. She has the potential and power to be a little spark plug in this lineup. If these gymnasts are competing, and then receiving support from Mary Beth Box’s excellent double pike among others, the lineup could contend for big scores consistently. If it’s just a bunch of medium-amplitude, low-landed double backs and rudis until Brandie Jay, they’ll be in trouble.