GymDogs fall in NCAA national semifinals: ‘This team had more in them’
Georgia’s promising return to nationals began with arms waving, fists pumping and two full sections of supporters rousing in cheer. It ended with tears, disappointment and disbelief.
A true ascent toward the top will have to wait another season.
Georgia (18-11) finished in fourth place of the second semifinal at NCAA national championships Friday night. It finished with a 196.4625, behind Oklahoma (197.850), Denver (197.0375) and Oregon State (196.900). Georgia had its third-lowest total of the season, behind a 195.500 at Oklahoma and a 196.325 at LSU.
“This is gymnastics and there are so many teams here,” Georgia head coach Courtney Kupets Carter said. “Everyone has done a fantastic job, and this is a difficult format. You have to be on fully to get through to the next session of this meet.”
Georgia opened on its weakest event, bar routine, and Kupets Carter insisted on the need for a strong start. It started off promising as Sydney Snead, Alexa Al-Hameed and Rachel Dickson each posted totals of at least 9.85 on their routines. But Marissa Oakley, two weeks after notching her first-ever perfect 10, fell on uneven bars twice. She scored an 8.8 after having Kupets Carter and assistant Josh Overton speak to her with a pep talk.
At that moment, a once-raucous support group progressively quieted and became more anxious. Georgia hasn’t been the most-consistent group on balance beam this season, but was coming off of a 49.550 in its strong performance at NCAA regionals. But its follow-up would be considerably more inconsistent and a far cry from superb.
While Georgia was on its late-season climb, its goal was to not count any scores below a 9.8 and have many scores at a 9.9 or higher. On beam alone, four scores were below the desired total of 9.8 and the GymDogs had to count two 9.725s and a 9.7625. Georgia finished with a 48.8625 which was only its third score below a 49 this season — both coming in the regular-season meet against Oklahoma.
“Around beam, we had some mistakes score-wise,” Snead said. “We did a good job of keeping it together and staying positive, but obviously that’s where it went wrong.”
Once the second rotation ended, Georgia was in fourth place and a climb toward the top half looked steep. A sub-197 total was its first since March 1 at LSU, and the GymDogs were seemingly a nationally-competitive force entering Friday’s meet.
Georgia isn’t sure what to chalk it up to, but many glum faces told a story of disappointment. There was a directive to “start the meet over” on floor and gymnasts looked at the crowd with a sense of exuberance to pump them up. But after counting a pair of sub-9.8 scores and a 49.0875 on floor, it wasn’t meant to be.
“It wasn’t the night that we wanted, but one we can definitely take as a learning experience,” junior Sabrina Vega said. “We have to start pushing again. It’s gymnastics and things just happen, it could’ve been nerves or an off day. It happens to everyone.”
And yet Georgia has a more-than-valid cause for optimism. This is a young group, arguably one of the most youthful nationally with nine freshmen, and many of them were major contributors throughout the season.
Of the newcomers, Rachael Lukacs scored a 9.85 on vault, Al-Hameed scored a 9.875 on uneven bars to break three consecutive weeks of 9.9s and Megan Roberts had a 9.85 on bars.
“They’re younger and they’ve got the will,” Kupets Carter said. “They want it so bad and it’s really about getting them in that moment that they can just go do it. Let it go and be free. They didn’t do that tonight. They have so much in them, so it was a disappointment. It’s nothing that we can’t take it and push from here.”
Georgia’s proud moment to close its season came on vault, its strongest event. As the GymDogs looked slightly dejected walking toward the final rotation, Kupets Carter offered a challenge: “Do it for Syd.” Snead was soon to take her last turn as a collegiate gymnast.
She stuck her one-and-a-half Yurchenko, the crowd roared one last time and tears began to flow down the senior’s face. Curtains on a career, and the GymDogs’ second season of a new era.
“I finished and kind of got sad, but I didn’t want to look like a bad sport because we didn’t qualify,” Snead said. “I definitely will get emotional after this.”