UPDATE: After this story was published, The Red & Black confirmed that Georgia fired head coach Danna Durante.
Georgia gymnastics had a rough showing at NCAAs. Perhaps the most concerning part about that was there weren’t any major errors. It was simply a story of Georgia consistently earning scores in the 9.7 range, while the top programs tallied scores above 9.9 left and right.
Georgia finished 12th out of the 12 teams there. The last time Georgia had a season end that poorly was in 2010, the first year after former head coach Suzanne Yoculan retired, when the team did not qualify to the NCAA semifinal and finished the year at No. 13. Two years later, head coach Jay Clark was fired.
The week after Georgia returned home from this year’s national championship, three gymnasts — Natalie Vaculik, Caroline Bradford and Jasmine Arnold — were dismissed from the team. That’s just about all we know and probably all we'll ever know.
None of those three were in the lineup at NCAAs, and the dismissal wasn’t related to disciplinary issues, Georgia confirmed.
Vaculik, a Whitby, Ontario, native, had strong freshman and sophomore seasons, but was out much of this year due to illness. She competed in the bars lineup twice, and on one of those routines, she scored a 9.9.
Now, here she is with one year left of collegiate eligibility and without a team. No gymnast should have to leave the team when she only has one year left and there is not a disciplinary reason behind it. She could decide to transfer, and if that’s what she wants, she deserves to find a place that’ll embrace her as she finishes out her time in this sport.
However, Vaculik wouldn’t be able to transfer to a program within the Southeastern Conference since that requires athletes to sit out a year, which counts as a year of eligibility.
Both Bradford and Arnold are walk-ons and had never competed for Georgia. As walk-ons, it is probably less likely that they’ll transfer. By not being on the team, nothing for Bradford and Arnold changes in regard to the cost of tuition as it does with Vaculik.
If Bradford and Arnold decide to stay at Georgia as students, that’s it. They are done with the sport. For Bradford, a sophomore, and Arnold, a junior, they might have just had their last practice and last meet without knowing it. That abruptness can’t be easy.
Again, nobody knows much about the situation because that’s how Georgia chose to handle it.
On Friday morning, the small group of gymnastics media received an email that the media availability scheduled for that afternoon had been canceled. Head coach Danna Durante declined to comment on the situation. Not long after, The Red & Black’s story was published.
About an hour later, I was told Durante would be able to talk to me Saturday morning, and I received this comment from Durante through the Georgia representative.
"The exact reasons [for the gymnasts no longer being on the team] are confidential. They are great kids. Dismissal makes them sound like a problem, which they weren’t."
The next morning, Durante told me she had decided she didn’t want to say anything further about the situation.
Here’s what we still don’t know and what I’d like to ask: First, why? If the dismissal was not for disciplinary reasons, then why? Did the gymnasts have any warning this could be coming? How will the open scholarship be used? Could this affect recruiting? And so forth.
So based on the two sentences from Durante, the outside world is left with this: The three gymnasts didn’t do anything wrong, but they are no longer with the team. And that's unfair — to the fans who want to know, to the media who need to ask and to the gymnasts whose names have been floating through a cloud of speculation.