Gym Dogs beam up for finale

Individual winners

Vault - Katherine Grable (Arkansas) and Rheagan Courville (LSU) 9.975

Uneven bars - Bridget Sloan (Florida) 9.9375

Balance beam - Taylor Spears (Oklahoma) 9.925

Floor - Katherine Grable (Arkansas) 9.9625

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Georgia’s gymnastics team didn’t leave Birmingham totally defeated by the balance beam. The Gym Dogs, who finished fifth in Saturday’s team competition after a shaky opening rotation on the balance beam, had the best showing on the event in the individual competition by a team.

Senior Lindsey Cheek finished second on the event with a 9.9 and sophomore Mary Beth Box tied for third with a 9.8875.

Cheek also finished tied for sixth on the vault with a 9.9167 and tied for sixth on the uneven bars with a 9.85.

“I can’t think of a better way for a senior to go out, other than winning a national championship, and she came close,” Georgia coach Danna Durante said.

Georgia’s Brandie Jay finished 11th on the vault with a 9.85 and 12th on the floor with a 9.7875.

The vault title was shared by Arkansas’ Katherine Grable and LSU’s Rheagan Courville who scored 9.975 each.

Florida’s Bridget Sloan, the defending balance beam and all-around champion who had a fall off the balance beam in Friday’s preliminaries, came back and won the uneven bars title with a 9.9375.

Balance beam was won by Oklahoma’s Taylor Spears with a 9.925 and Katherine Grable of Arkansas won the floor with a 9.9625.

Cheek said placing two Georgia gymnasts so high on the balance beam helped prove Georgia had a beam lineup, although the beam proved to be Georgia’s downfall on Saturday when it scored just 49.075 on the event.

“To get second and third on beam out of the whole country is awesome,” she said. “It proves we have a good beam lineup, not just us but throughout it.”

Cheek went early in the second flight of gymnasts and had an agonizing wait to see if her score would hold. It did until Spears competed last out of the 16 gymnasts in the beam competition.

“That was nerve-wracking,” Cheek said. “But finishing second is still good and I’m still happy with it.”

The senior from Watkinsville leaves the Georgia program as a four-time All-American on vault and the SEC Event Specialist of the Year.

What set her apart was the enthusiasm she brought to the sport, Durante said.

“She had so much spirit and that helped the team,” Durante said. “She is nice, but she knows how to compete hard too.”

Cheek said her final meet was bittersweet.

“Now my body can heal, but being a gymnast is who I am,” she said. “I’m sad to be done.”

Durante was just as happy with the performance by Box, who developed into Georgia’s critical leadoff gymnast on the event.

“When I told her I wanted her to lead us off, she didn’t know that she could,” Durante said. “But she did it and got the confidence in herself and to perform as well as she did on a national stage is huge.”

Sunday’s events capped off what both Durante and her gymnasts viewed as a successful campaign. Making the Super Six two years in a row was huge for them, they said.

“We know we need to take the next step and be even better, but it is a process and we are on our way,” Durante said. “It isn’t a matter anymore of whether Georgia is back in the Super Six, but how well we do. That is a huge deal.”

The Gym Dogs lose several key seniors in Kaylan Earls, Cheek and Cat Hires, but Durante said she was impressed with the way the underclassmen developed as well.

“We have a good group coming up so I am very positive about the future,” Durante said. “I know there are a lot of them that want to get right back into the gym next week when we get back.”

So too was junior Chelsea Davis, one of the nation’s best gymnasts on the uneven bars who said she is determined to keep Georgia on track.

“We wanted to show Georgia is back and we did that,” she said of the season. “But we aren’t satisfied, we want to keep doing more.”