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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)

The Georgia GymDogs showcased much of their 2020 roster on Tuesday evening inside Stegeman Coliseum during the annual First Look event — only this year, with a new format. 

Head coach Courtney Kupets Carter decided to separate the team into two separate squads, Red vs. Black. 

“At first [the team] were all still wanting to go together,” Kupets Carter said. “I was just convincing them the idea was supposed to be for fun. The idea behind it was to just give everybody an opportunity to do the events that they had been training.”

Unlike typical meets where the top five scores from each rotation count, the First Look only recorded the top three scores. This was because of the Red vs. Black design, which made for only four gymnasts per team on vault, beam and floor. Five gymnasts per team competed on bars. 

The Red team ultimately came out on top, winning 164.475 to 155.7. When summing up the top five combined scores between the two teams in a traditional format, the GymDogs totaled 196.575. 

Two seniors, two juniors, seven sophomores and four freshmen make up this year’s team. The two seniors, Sabrina Vega and Rachel Dickson, covered two of the four GymDogs competing in the all-around. The other two all-around competitors were sophomores Rachael Lukacs and Mikayla Magee. 

Showcasing new routines

Many GymDogs introduced their new routines on Tuesday. Vega performed for the Black team on every event, including her unofficial debut on bars, scoring a 9.8. She earned the high score between both teams on vault (9.85), beam (9.9) and floor (9.95). Dickson earned the high score on bars along with sophomore Megan Roberts, recording a score of 9.85. 

“Coming into college, I never thought I was going to do all-around,” Vega said. “I thought I was just going to do beam and floor because those are my strongest events. Last year, I started training bars, and I was already doing the other three events, so having the motivation of this being my [senior] year makes me want to give it all I got.” 

Dickson performed in all four events for the Red team, all of which finished in the top five between both teams. Her best performance earned a 9.875 on floor. 

New depth through youth 

Georgia presented nine freshmen at last year’s First Look, and four more were introduced this season, creating another year filled with youth. Amanda Cashman, Haley De Jong, Loulie Hattaway and Soraya Hawthorne all made their debut in front of Georgia fans Tuesday night. 

Cashman competed in vault and bars, accumulating scores of 9.8 and 9.7, respectively. Hawthorne competed on floor, beam and vault, with her best score on floor (9.875). 

“Through the years, we haven’t had as much depth as we have this year,” Dickson said. “It’s awesome. The people who are pushing to get in the lineup are pushing the girls already in the lineup to do even better. I think it’s going to push this team to the highest it’s ever been.” 

De Jong competed in three events — beam, floor and bars. Her best performance was on beam, scoring 9.8. Roberts made her debut on floor, scoring 9.8, followed by fellow sophomore Abbey Ward competing for her first time on bars with a score of 9.675. 

Not at full strength

GymDogs not involved in the action tonight include sophomores Sterlyn Austin and Alyssa Perez-Lugones, as well as junior Emily Schild. 

Schild is still on the road to recovery after suffering a knee injury in early March but is expected to continue to compete on bars whenever she’s ready to return. Schild averaged 9.673 on bars last season before the injury, with a career high of 9.875 during her freshman campaign.

“We’re finally getting [Schild’s] bar routine together,” Kupets Carter said. “She is so talented beyond belief when it comes to bars. It’s just been a slower process with the injury she had, and we just want to make sure she feels OK.” 

De Jong was also getting through the final stages of a minor injury leading up to First Look, which kept her from vault on Tuesday. 

“We’ve definitely put her on the bars and beam as she was getting back [to full health],” Kupets Carter said. “Those are the two main events we asked her to get back and ready on first. She’s fully capable, and we will have her training on all four events.”

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