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Georgia head coach Courtney Kupets Carter gives the black team a pep talk. The University of Georgia gymnastics team hosted a first look meet to unofficially begin its 2020 season on Dec. 17, 2019, in Athens, Georgia. (Photo/ Kathryn Skeean, kskeean@randb.com)

In the first two meets of the 2021 season, Georgia gymnastics has explored multiple lineup changes across all four events, a practice that has both helped and hurt the GymDogs in the early stages of SEC competition.

This practice of rotating lineups is both a product of various injuries and the pandemic-affected season, giving each gymnast more opportunity to branch out with the events they practice and compete. Across Georgia's eight-meet, conference-only schedule, the coaching staff utilizes the extra time spent in the gym between meets to explore the depth of the team.

“I think what's been so nice this year is the healthy competition in our gym, the ability to have so many people on a lineup that it makes it hard for us to decide the lineup,” said head coach Courtney Kupets Carter prior to the season’s start. “And that's really led to a lot of quality gymnastics from a lot of athletes.”

Two weeks into the season, five GymDogs are out with various injuries or are phasing back into competition from injury, including all three rostered freshmen and juniors Mikayla Magee and Rachael Lukacs.

Freshmen Nhyla Bryant, Katie Finnegan and Lukacs suffered injuries before the start of season and are working to get back on the mat soon for the GymDogs. Magee and freshman Victoria Nguyen sustained different injuries within the past couple weeks of competition, and both were taken out of different events’ lineups in the middle of warmups during Georgia’s most recent meet with Florida.

The last-minute changes during warmups can be nerve-wracking, albeit exciting for the alternates on each event’s lineup, said junior Megan Roberts.

Roberts was one gymnast asked to step up against Florida as she competed on the balance beam for the first time since becoming a GymDog. The Florida meet also marked her first time competing in the all-around since Roberts was an elite gymnast prior to college.

“[Kupets Carter] really focused on a lot of us doing every event that we possibly could just to train it as a backup, because you never know when you're going to go in,” Roberts said. “And trust me, I did not expect to go into beam at all. But I knew that the team needed me, so I was like, ‘I need to get it done. Even if I'm nervous.’”

Other gymnasts trying their hand at new events for the GymDogs are Alyssa Perez-Lugones competing on balance beam as well as her usual floor, Abbey Ward on the uneven bars after solely competing on vault, and Haley de Jong competing in the all-around competition.

De Jong not only participated in all four events for the first time as a GymDog against Florida, but she also earned the highest all-around score across both teams.

Some of the lineup changes have helped Georgia’s final score while others harmed it.

Overall scores for vault and floor events increased from the season opener to the competition with the Gators, as four lineup changes were made across both events. On the other hand, bars and beam scores dropped in the second week as the beam lineup underwent changes to replace over half its gymnasts.

Having to make so many last-minute changes during warmups against Florida was uncharacteristic for Georgia, but one the team took with grace, Kupets Carter said.

“It's one of those things that will prepare us to be a great team,” she said. “You can't make some of these situations up in a gym and make it feel real. They never really let it change their demeanor on the meet, how much effort they gave — they were 100% invested no matter who was going up.”