Ahead of Georgia’s home meet against Arkansas, Michelle Snead was searching for a gift to place in the GymDogs’ lockers to open before taking the floor.
Prior to the season, gymnasts’ parents collectively tasked Michelle, mother of the team’s lone senior Sydney Snead, had planned out gifts for each of the six home meets ahead of the NCAA regionals. But she saw an opening to introduce a timely keepsake when reading quotes from Courtney Kupets Carter’s press conference after Georgia posted a 197 against Iowa State. Georgia’s second-year head coach tagged the phrase “we have what it takes,” and Michelle wanted the gymnasts to see it in writing.
She thought there was no better way to do that than custom-made sweatshirts.
“I wanted to continue to build their confidence as this team gets better-and-better throughout the season,” said Snead’s mother, who makes trips to the home meets from North Carolina. “I wanted them to know this was true.”
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They were placed in the gymnast’s lockers and wrapped like they were ready to be opened on Christmas morning. Once the GymDogs loosened the bow and saw the black sweatshirts with the newly implemented motto embossed in large font, there was a reaction that was similar to a holiday-like surprise.
“You guys like them?” Michelle asked while worried about the team’s reception of the gift.
“Absolutely, it’s very impressive,” Snead responded. “It was kind of a motivator to see that in writing. We now have what it takes. That takes our confidence to a next level and that’s very helpful.”
That’s a motto that’s not only on a sweatshirt or tossed-around lightly in team meetings, but it’s something the GymDogs are using as a baseline for the season’s remainder. They entered the season with the tagline of “Whatever it Takes,” and the pop hit by Imagine Dragons will continue to blare through the arena before floor routine. Now, it’s different as Georgia believes that it can compete among the best.
A sense of assurance began to take place before the season in fall practices, but not to its full capability. Once the season started, there was a bit of shakiness, jitters for the newcomers and small mistakes (attitude, focus or even a pointed toe) that led to the need for evaluation. Georgia knew it had potential, then it clicked in recent weeks as it notched a season-high 197.450 against Arkansas.
“I’ve been thinking when this team really pulls it together, they can go as far as they want,” said Kupets Carter, who jokingly made it known to The Telegraph that she wanted credit for the motto. Some of her gymnasts attributed it elsewhere. “Now, they’ve built a steady progress.”
Added Snead: “We saw the steps being taken with the mid-196s and then hitting the 197. There was growth to make all of us think ‘we do have this.’”
There’s one area that has gymnastics followers curious, however, and that’s Georgia’s performance on the road. At home, it has been no issue with favorable performances and a sellout crowd each Friday night to lead the support. Georgia has had two away meets thus far, and the results haven’t been as favorable: a 195.300 against Oklahoma and a 196.400 against Auburn, both losses.
The team sees just a small gap between itself and the elite programs, and the GymDogs believe they’re a step away from reaching that point. Four-of-five meets for Georgia are away from Stegeman Coliseum, and they expect improvement with energy-inducing meets looming against No. 2 Florida and No. 5 LSU.
“We have some really good meets coming up (two pink meets, at Florida, at LSU and senior night),” junior all-around gymnast Rachel Dickson said. “At this point in the season, we find ourselves in a very good spot for tough teams. That’s why our schedule is very perfect.”
Georgia’s schedule was intentionally designed with a plethora of home meets to start and a stretch of road competitions in the heart of the season. It creates an interesting dynamic, but Georgia isn’t deterred by the challenges.
The belief inside the practice gym is that higher scores will be driven by team bonding. That was seen when Kupets Carter mentioned the word “chemistry” in an interview and many of her gymnasts were huddled in a circle and laughing at their own jokes.
“I think our schedule worked out for our team really, really well. It was better than we could’ve planned — even though I did plan it,” Kupets Carter said. “They are starting to feel that groove and have a confidence that they can compete against anyone in the nation.”
Georgia has taken a team-first approach throughout the season’s first half, but it realizes the need for individual improvement in order to boost the team score. So, Snead took the charge on that initiative and asks questions with the goal of significant shifts in mind: “Where on every event can you get half-a-tenth? Where can you be your very best?”
As the slate gets tougher, so do the internal expectations. Georgia was only the fourth team this season to notch a score as high as 197.450 this season.
Do the GymDogs have “what it takes” to beat it and be among the best?
“We’re going to top it for sure,” Snead said.