Georgia senior Sabrina Vega strikes a pose during 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)

The Georgia gymnastics team hosted its first SEC matchup of the season Friday night against LSU at Stegeman Coliseum and finished with a score of 196.15 that fell short to the Tigers’ 196.725.

The GymDogs showed promise with energetic floor performances and strong freshmen debuts, but they also dealt with a shaky rotation on bars, where three of the six in their current lineup were consistent contributors on the event in 2019.

Stegeman Coliseum came alive as the GymDogs finished the night on the floor with three 9.95 scores from freshman Soraya Hawthorne, sophomore Rachael Lukacs and senior Sabrina Vega. The GymDogs scored a 49.55 in its best rotation of the night.

“The fans are great and the energy they bring helps us out and builds that confidence within us, especially on the floor,” Lukacs said. “It’s just amazing to know they all have our backs up there.”

However, the GymDogs struggled on bars and counted a 48.05 in their second event. Vega and junior Marissa Oakley both suffered falls, and Georgia was forced to count Oakley’s 9.05 over Vega’s 8.5. Freshman Haley de Jong led the event with a 9.8.

Vega had not competed bars at Georgia before this year and said she recognized her personal struggle on Friday. However, the slip-up did not shut Vega down, and she said she let it energize her for the remainder of the meet and push her to finish strong.

“I’ve wanted to compete bars for Georgia since I got here,” Vega said. “It wasn’t the routine that I wanted for today, but my teammates rallied around me [and] got me back on track and ready to compete in the last two events.”

Head coach Courtney Kupets Carter also brushed off the difficulties on bars and remained focused on positives and the road ahead.

“There’s no problem with bars,” Kupets Carter said. “We will get there. We’re not there yet, obviously. Practice through time will help this team get exactly where we want to be on that event.”

Georgia came out with a bang on vault to open the night and recorded a 49.325. Sophomores Abbey Ward and Lukacs led the way with 9.9s, and Ward recorded her career high on vault with this effort. Mikayla Magee and Vega counted 9.85s, and Hawthorne added to the solid performance with a 9.825.

In the third rotation of the night, Georgia’s beam lineup recorded a 49.175. Vega delivered in this event with a 9.9 for Georgia. Sophomore Rachel Baumann and de Jong contributed a pair of 9.875s. Lukacs also counted a 9.825.

Despite the loss, Kupets Carter felt her team’s energy and sees significant promise for her team during the 2020 season.

“They’re working very hard,” Kupets Carter said. “They love what they’re doing right now. We’re very faithful in what we see in our athletes in the practice gym and where their potential is.”

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