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GymDog Rachel Baumann celebrates after competing on the floor at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Georgia, on Saturday, March 16, 2019. The Georgia GymDogs defeated the Utah Red Rocks 197.525 to 197.450. (Photo/Rebecca Wright)

This weekend, the Georgia gymnastics team will travel to New Orleans to compete in the SEC championships, but a conference title is not the only thing the GymDogs are after this weekend.

For the squad of 14 and its four coaches, road trips are a chance to bond and grow closer as a team.

“The bus rides and the plane rides, we’ll play games and stuff or we’ll watch things on Netflix and just laugh,” freshman Rachael Lukacs said.

Lukacs said that a team-favorite is ‘Heads Up’ and that the Ellen Degeneres charade game is great for airplanes. In addition, Lukacs and junior Sabrina Vega share an affinity for Sebastian Maniscalco, a stand-up comedian, and that they’ve spent airplane rides together watching him on Netflix until they cry from laughter.

Freshman Rachel Baumann said that some of her favorite memories with the team are their bus rides, where the team “blasts” their music, listening to ‘Sic Em’ and other Georgia songs, to get excited about their meets.

In addition to transportation, the GymDogs get to spend time together in their hotel rooms during away meets, where they are paired up with different roommates each trip.

“When we’re staying overnight in a hotel, it’s kind of fun. We’re always getting ready together, kind of just hanging out in each other’s room, talking and just really getting to know each other on a different level,” Vega said.

Lukacs agreed that the chance to have sleepovers with teammates allows the GymDogs to get to know each other on a more one-on-one basis, and remembered her first two road trips with the team, where she roomed with senior Sydney Snead.

For a young Lukacs early in her career, being paired with a veteran like Snead eased her nerves. She said Snead didn’t talk about gymnastics in their downtime, which helped Lukacs get the upcoming meet off her mind.

In addition, Snead showed Lukacs the ropes on meet day.

“It was just nice because I knew she was experienced and she was going to keep me on pace with what time we had to go, getting ready and all that, which was nice,” Lukacs said.

The process of getting ready on meet day is another thing that brings the GymDogs together on road trips.

“We have certain people that do hair, so it’s either Sab [Vega] does some people or I have Megan [Roberts] or Abbey [Ward] do my braid,” Lukacs said. “Then go back and put our buns up and then go to Ray D [Rachel Dickson]’s room to put the glitter and the G’s on.”

Vega shared that this routine begins to form in the fall, during intersquad practices and First Look. When Vega realized last year she was taking on the role of doing hair on meet day, she wasn’t sure how much time it would take, but she now has it down to a science.

“I’ve gotten it down to the tee,” Vega said. “I always go 'OK, team meeting is at this time’ and then I give myself an hour before the meeting to do my treatment, and then an hour before that is everyone’s hair. Two hours before that is when I start going to get ready.”

All in all, Vega finds herself starting to apply makeup and do her own hair about four hours before a meet. Both Lukacs and Vega agree that this process has brought the team together.

As for this weekend in New Orleans, head coach Courtney Kupets Carter said that she and the coaching staff will come up with a fun bonding activity for the team. Last year, the coaches tasked the gymnasts with creating a song to present at the team meeting, and Vega hopes that something equally as memorable is in the works for this year’s overnight stay.

“I mean, it was really fun, so hopefully we do a little something like that,” Vega said. “That does build teamwork but also memories for sure”

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