Georgia head coach Courtney Kupets Carter gives Rachel Baumann a pep talk before her beam routine. The University of Georgia women’s gymnastics team hosted LSU to lose by a final score of 196.725-196.150 on Jan. 10, 2020, in Athens, Georgia. (Photo/Kathryn Skeean, kskeean@randb.com)

After 10 long months, Georgia gymnastics is returning to the vault, mat, beam and bars for the first time since its 2020 season came to a screeching halt in March.

The GymDogs will kick off their 2021 campaign Friday night against Missouri in Stegeman Coliseum for their first meet of a conference-only season. 

The past months have given the GymDogs apt time to prepare, focus and train with newcomers ahead of the shortened 2021 season. Georgia's welcoming three new freshmen to the roster after celebrated 2020 seniors Sabrina Vega and Rachel Dickson chose to forgo the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA due to the pandemic. Victoria Nguyen, Katie Finnegan and Nhyla Bryant will compete with upperclassmen for spots on each event’s lineups as all around gymnasts. 

This year’s unusual preseason circumstances posed a challenge for the newcomers to adjust to a collegiate team, but one the program took in stride, said head coach Courtney Kupets Carter. 

“The gym is where they've gotten to know each other,” she said. “Because we have such a big space, they can be socially distant, they can interact with each other for gymnastics, like their common bond is gymnastics. That's where they really had to create relationships and bonds amongst themselves more than in the past.”

In addition to the abnormal preseason, this year’s competition will look drastically different from the GymDogs’ self-titled “Vision 2020” campaign in terms of opponents and atmosphere. Only 20% of Stegeman Coliseum will be filled during home meets, which is a stark difference from the average full stands of cheering fans.

The GymDogs will compete in only eight meets against conference opponents this season as opposed to past seasons where they would face over a dozen schools, half of them being non-conference teams. These non-conference meets usually secured victories for Georgia prior to the beginning of conference competition. 

“Whether it's an SEC team or not, we typically go for high-quality competition. So it's not really a difference for [the gymnasts] in that factor,” Kupets Carter said. “I think the difference was the amount of meets, and it only being SEC, versus the quality of competition. We don't need too many competitions, we just need a good consistent stream of meets and availability to make up a meet if necessary.”

Following the COVID-19 outbreak and sequential cancellation of the remainder of the 2020 season, Georgia finished the year with a 3-4 record and No. 12 ranking in the NCAA. The Gymdogs also went 2-4 in the SEC, losing their final two meets to Florida and Alabama. 

Georgia’s season-opener against Missouri is the first time the two have competed since the 2019 season, as the scheduled 2020 meet with the Tigers was canceled. 

The culture of the revamped 2021 season will pay homage to the university’s fight song, “Glory, Glory” as a motivating factor for the GymDogs’ performances and ethics on the mat. 

“What is Glory, Glory, it's really being that full self for the team,” Kupets Carter said. “But underneath that, it really is a celebration. In a time where you can focus on all the things that aren't going well, we can look at the negative, or we can get excited about the positive. And so that's kind of our main message this year is just celebrate all the little things you can because we don't want to take any of it for granted.”