Even with a few injuries to some of the more experienced Gym'Backs, the team performed well in a tight contest with the Bulldogs but Gym'Back senior Katherine Grable won the all-around competition as best gymnast of the night.
Last night was not a repeat of the stunning 2012 season opener for the Gym'Backs. Number 12-ranked Arkansas hosted number 11-ranked Georgia at Barnhill Arena. If the Dawgs were smarting from last week's defeat against number 4-ranked Oklahoma, it did not show. Georgia brought their A-game, all night long.
UGA junior Lindsey Cheek started a series of clean uneven bar routines while Arkansas senior Amy Borsellino began the Gym'Backs on vault. At the end of the first rotation, the 'Backs led Georgia 49.100 to 49.025, thanks to two spectacular vaults from junior Katherine Grable and senior Kelci Lewis that garnered a 9.857 and 9.85 respectively.
The momentum did not last, however, as Arkansas shifted to bars. I sorely missed last year's high-flying, near-Olympian uneven bar exercises, as Coach Mark Cook undoubtedly did as well. Noticeable problems with handstands, connecting elements, and landings plagued the Gym'Backs as Georgia nailed vault after grudgingly-impressive vault. UGA took the lead with a team score of 98.350 to Arkansas' 97.825.
I missed last year's All-American Jamie Pisani and wondered if it was possible to reinstate her eligibility when the 'Backs regrouped to take the beam, which was absolutely the weakest exercise for the Gym'Backs last season and the event that I usually despise as the most dangerous "Devil's Playground."
Yet, EUREKA! Beam was a terrific surprise for Gym'Back fans. 5'9 freshman Keara Glover performed a complicated, gorgeous routine like an absolute rock star, while freshman Sydnie Dillard also turned in a stellar beam. Erin Freier, another freshman, took a nasty spill that resulted in a dreaded 9.0, but should not overshadow her strong ability on this event. Arkansas can look forward to putting the beam as a feather in her cap.
Still, and despite some God-awful musical choices that included the loathsome "Call Me Maybe" and the freaking MACARENA, Georgia was busy garnering solid floor routines to lead the 'Backs 147.375 to 146.775. I really cannot forgive the Dawgs for their taste in music. Athens is a wonderful music town--who allowed those choices to happen?
In the fourth rotation, the Gym'Backs battled valiantly and nearly took home victory. Junior Bailee Zumwalde continued her tradition of high-drama, high-octane floor routine set to 1950s jazz--Don Draper would be throughly impressed--as were the judges who scored her a 9.8. Freshman Sydnie Dillard delivered another fantastic routine, set Pink Floyd's "Money," that earned a 9.85. Our taste is better than Georgia's. Finally, Kat Grable turned in a stunningly complicated, nearly entirely aerial spectacle that garnered a 9.925. However, Georgia's beam could not be beat--UGA's Lindsey Cheek LIT'RALLY moonwalked across that sucker and forced a grin out of me, while senior Shayla Worley turned in a Dawes-esque routine that a Georgia commentator said was one of her best ever. I don't know if that's true, it's just what I heard. But it did solidify UGA's final score at 196.200 to Arkansas' 195.775--a difference of less than half a point.
The Gym'Backs returned six All-Americans to this year's roster and welcomed five new freshmen to the squad. In post-match interviews, Kat Grable and Coach Mark Cook remarked on the injuries that plagued the team in the offseason. Noticeably absent from the floor were veterans Jordan Salsberg and Scarlett Williams, and there were some noticeable freshmen moments on exercises last night. But under Oshkosh Sassmaster, Kat Grable's leadership and the obvious quality of our newest 'Backs, this is a squad that will be a joy for Arkansas fans to watch as they mature (and heal) into a formidable force. I'm looking forward to the Gym'Backs taking on Kentucky next week. Hopefully, the Wildcats won't make my ears bleed.