As the only single-skill event in gymnastics, vault requires the utmost precision and confidence upon execution.
“It's a very different event,” head coach Courtney Kupets Carter said. “It's not like you can breathe or come down and work through your skills like on beam and floor and bars. It’s so quick, you have to really be able to adjust quickly and know what your adjustments are prior to hitting.”
The GymDogs are No. 13 in the country on vault, which is its second-lowest ranked event. With scores ranging from 48.67 to 49.375, vault is the second-most inconsistent event for Georgia behind bars, which is skewed by the GymDogs’ season-low performance against LSU. Georgia has had two of their three highest vault scores in the past two meets.
There is also not much variation in the way vault is performed by gymnasts, especially in the NCAA. Typically, a gymnast will do a variation of a Yurchenko, which includes the sequence of a roundoff, a back handspring and a varying combination of twists or flips to maximize height and distance from the vault.
All-around GymDog Rachael Lukacs holds the team’s high score on vault this season with a 9.925 that she has hit in the past two meets.
Competing a double-twisting Yurchenko, Lukacs said the aggressive and focused approach is the most important aspect to earning a high score. That focus can come into play in the milliseconds as she touches the vault, depending on how she hits the table or springboard.
“You have to run as fast as you can, use that table and then be explosive, [with] nice tight arms and twists,” Lukacs said. “It’s a more powerful event than bars or beam.”
Every GymDog on the vault lineup competes with a Yurchenko variation, with the exception of sophomore Abbey Ward.
With vault as her specialty, Ward showcases a unique skill in the event, the Tsukahara full, commonly shortened to the Tsuk. It’s comprised of a roundoff on the vault and a flip variation before sticking the landing.
Ward is one of the only gymnasts that executes a Tsuk currently in the NCAA, as it’s predominantly used in men’s gymnastics.
The rarity of the Tsuk is a double-edged sword in the NCAA. Since few gymnasts use it as their vault skill, judges don’t get the experience of scoring them as much as the common Yurchenko vault, which is a factor Ward believes has a slight impact on the scores she’s awarded.
“It may be a little bit of a disadvantage, but it's also just refreshing that the judges get to see something different,” Ward said. “I'm a little bit unique versus some other girls.”
A high score on vault is helped by two factors: the height achieved from pushing off the vault and the distance cleared on the landing. While the Tsuk is an difficult vault to become proficient in — as Kupets Carter praises Ward for competing — it isn't necessarily optimized for the height and distance that certain high-scoring Yurchenkos can achieve.
Ward’s career high while performing Tsuk fulls on the vault as a GymDog is a 9.9.
As the first event completed at every home meet, the vault lineup seems to pass in the blink of an eye. But its success or shortcoming is integral to the mindset of the team progressing into the rest of the meet.
“The attitude, it's not like, ‘Oh, it's not as important,’” Ward said. “I just think it's very important to just like start the meet off right and strong.”