Flyers from Georgia just Dawg-gone good

April 10, 1995|By PHIL JACKMAN

They call 'em Dawgs (translation: dogs) which, in sports parlance, very often means a person or team that will lie down, roll over and perhaps even beg for mercy when the going gets tough and the pressure is on.

Nothing could be more removed from the truth when you're talking about the Gym Dawgs representing the University of Georgia. What a cast.

They come at you from all points of the compass, this aggregation of tumblers, vaulters, bar and beam practitioners who easily captured their eighth straight Southeast Regional title Saturday evening at Towson State on the way to hosting the NCAA Championships April 20-22 back home in Athens, Ga.

A stunning 197.575 points (of 200) these top-ranked women piled up, beating off the challenge of SEC rival Florida (195.700) and five other teams, including host Towson State. The sparkling show prompted coach Suzanne Yoculan to say, "I think we would have won the NCAAs with the performance we had tonight. In fact, our scores might have been a bit higher in that meet."

When's the last time you heard a coach or manager come right out and say what truly was on his or her mind? But the coach was only speaking fact on this occasion. Georgia's scorers won each of the four apparatus competitions with something to spare, and this was no cupcake field it was facing.

In addition to sixth-ranked Florida, Kentucky and West Virginia are in the top 20 and there were a legion of excellent individuals knocking out big scores in every rotation.

Kentucky, which lost out to West Virginia for the third team qualifying spot from the region, featured Jenny Hansen, for instance. The junior from Wisconsin is the two-time defending NCAA all-around champ and carries the top ranking in the all-around, vault exercise and balance beam nationally.

Yet she was only second best on this occasion. Even more solid than Hansen as the evening moved along was 4-foot-10 mighty-mite Kim Arnold, a Georgia freshman from Portland, Oregon. Kim won the much-feared beam competition, was third in the floor and vault and 10th in the bars. Her 39.60 tally was a career best.

"The beam started out as my worst event," said Kim, who then fell under the influence of Romanian coach Erika Balkas. "She wouldn't take any arguments or excuses. She wouldn't accept you falling off all over the place or being sloppy."

Now it's Arnold's best event, although judging from her all-around scores, which ranged from 9.85 to 9.95, who's to say anything's weak. "The bars are my worst event. I fell off in our first meet this year," she said, disbelievingly.

As the top seed and defending champ, Georgia took the usual path to championships, the vault, bars, beam and floor in that order. "The NCAA winner has had that schedule in eight of the last nine years and it's only right that the No. 1-ranked team should have a chance to select that preferred rotation," said Yoculan, a Pennsylvania transplant out of Penn State.

"Momentum is so important at the start, because it gets the adrenaline going," she continued. "And the vault is a great place to start, not only because you get two tries but because the run-up gets you going and fully into it."

Georgia put its five scorers among the first seven finishers in the event. Hansen came along later to score an el perfecto, a 10. Next it was the uneven bars and the Lady Bulldogs went 1-2-3, paced by Lori Strong's 10.

Strong is a two-time Olympian from Canada who is the Commonwealth nation's champion on the floor, beam and all-around who already has a move named in her honor. It's a maneuver that sees her work a full twist into play as she's moving from the high bar to the low bar.

They just keep coming, these Georgians from Ontario, Oregon, Illinois, Michigan and, oh yes, Atlanta. And every one of them as needed when one stops and considers SEC teams finished JTC 2-3-6-8 in last year's title meet and are currently ranked 1-3-5-6. Shockingly, Georgia finished third behind 'Bama and LSU in the SEC title meet two weeks ago.

How big is the sport in the SEC? While Georgia averages about 8,500 fans to its home meets, Florida has its own plane, half its matches are carried on cable television and the coaches have a 19-person support staff.

Meanwhile, Georgia has eight women who have received All-American honors, all performing the four apparatus, if needed. And half the members of the squad are conference all-academic selections led by Leah Brown, conceded to be the best vaulter in the country and carrying a 3.50 in pre-med.

Saturday, no matter who the large and appreciative crowd was pulling for when it moved into the Towson Center, it was soon swept up into the brillance and depth of the Georgia team, Hansen, Strong, Arnold, Florida's All-American trio of Kristen Guise, Coleen Johnson and Amy Myerson and Towson's Erin Shanley, fifth on the bars and 12th in the all-around.

At least five teams have an excellent chance of winning in Athens. We're talking about one "stick," a perfect landing, winning the title.

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