One of the most storied rivalries in college sports began a new chapter Friday night in Athens, Georgia at a sold-out Stegeman Coliseum.
For decades, Alabama and Georgia ruled the collegiate gymnastics universe. Lead by legendary coaches Sarah Patterson and Susan Yoculan, the two programs set the standard for excellence in college gymnastics. An intense rivalry developed between Patterson and Yoculan, as the pair fought hotly-contested meets in building their respective dynasties. Of the thirty-three national championships awarded in women's collegiate gymnastics, sixteen have been won by either Georgia or Alabama. For those unfamiliar with the rivalry, it was such a national phenomenon that ESPN produced a brilliant "30-for-30" in 2014 highlighting the feud.
Georgia's Yoculan retired in 2009, and Danna Durante has served as the Gym Dogs' head coach for the past 3 seasons. Sarah Patterson then announced her retirement last summer; program alum and long-time assistant coach, Dana Duckworth, is now in her first season as head coach of the Tide.
Alabama had spent the last two weeks in the safe confines of Coleman Coliseum, winning both meets. Georgia had been on the road for three weeks straight, dropping two meets. The atmosphere inside the Stegeman Coliseum was loud and the crowd eager to see a showdown between these gymnastics powerhouses.
The evening started with Alabama on uneven bars. Freshman Mackenzie Brannan and senior Kaitlyn Clark both posted 9.9s, while junior Lauren Beers put an exclamation point on the Tide's bars rotation, tallying a 9.950. Georgia meanwhile had a very strong vault showing -- their 49.550 propelling them to the lead after the first rotation. Alabama posted a 49.375, to finish the first rotation trailing by a slim margin.
Rotation two brought Alabama to the vault. Sophomore, and former Olympian, Dominique Pegg returned to vault competition for the first time this season, and contributed a 9.850. Beers and junior Carley Sims both posted 9.9s, while senior Kayla Williams earned her season-best of 9.950. Georgia suffered a fall on the bars, but was able to drop that score. At the end of the rotation, the Tide inched closer to Georgia 98.800 - 98.850.
Alabama headed to the floor exercise for their third rotation, where they demonstrated precisely why they are ranked No. 2 in the country in that event. Sophomore Amanda Jetter and Sims both scored 9.9s, and Clark followed up with a 9.950. Beers mirrored Clark's 9.950, with a powerful, crisp performance. Meanwhile, as Georgia moved to the beam, the 'Dawgs continued their season-long struggle on the apparatus. Although the Gym Dogs avoided having to count a 9.125, UGA was not particularly sharp. Rotation three ended with the Tide claiming the lead 148.325 - 148.150.
The Tide entered the final rotation of the competition on balance beam, where they have steadily improved as the season progresses. Senior Kayla Williams got the squad off to a strong start with a 9.850, while sophomore Keely McNeer pulled in a 9.925. Clark earned her second 9.950 of the meet. The senior is a strong beam athlete, and has previously posted a 10.0 on the apparatus (in a meet against Auburn, no less!) Even as Alabama was tallying a dominant score, Georgia came apart on the floor exercise: The Gym Dogs had uncharacteristic stumbles, shaky landings, and two falls in an event where they are noted for their artistry, even if not having the most technically-difficult routines. After too many gaffes, the 'Dawgs were required to count a 9.275 floor score, sealing the Tide win.
The 197.675-196.825 victory in Athens gave Alabama their highest road score this season; an impressive accomplishment with the Tide absent one of its best athletes, Katie Bailey, who was nursing back spasms. Alabama also earned their season-best team score on floor exercise, with an exceptional 49.525. Georgia was not without its own accomplishments. The Gym Dogs posted season bests in both vault and beam. Kaitlyn Clark took the all-around title, and teammate Lauren Beers finished second. The full meet scorecard is here.
The next challenge for the Alabama Gymnastics squad will be on their home turf at Coleman Coliseum next Friday, Feb. 27, at 7:00 p.m. versus No. 2 LSU. Tickets can be purchased at rolltide.com or by calling 205-348-BAMA.