Georgia head coach Suzanne Yoculan has a history of leading her teams to unexpected heights. In 1987 and '89, Yoculan's Gym Dogs entered the national championships as the fifth seed and came away with victories. But no one could have predicted the 'worst to first' jump the Gym Dogs made in 2005 at the NCAA Championships in Auburn, Ala.
Georgia entered the Championships - a 12-team event - as the No. 12 seed. A disastrous meet in the Southeast Regional with a score of 195.15 nearly kept the Gym Dogs out of the competition for the first time since 1983.
There were some tense moments at the regional when Georgia trailed four other teams through two events, but the 2005 Gym Dogs were no strangers to adversity at any time during the year. A four-meet losing streak in midseason is now looked at as a stretch that propelled Georgia to the end of the year. The Gym Dogs opened the season with a win at the Super Six Challenge in Gainesville, Fla., and squeezed out wins in three straight conference dual meets before hitting the four-meet losing skid - the longest in Yoculan's 22 years.
Following the fourth straight loss, which came to Alabama at home on Feb. 18, the Gym Dogs had one of the best regular-season weekends in team history with wins against Utah and UCLA.
It's still a wonder that the string of losses didn't extend to five. In a tight meet at home against the No. 4 Utes, the Gym Dogs looked like their trend of falling off the bars and beam would continue as the first-up on those events hit the mat. But Georgia's last five in the bars lineup finished with solid scores for a 49.2 team total, and on beam the last five competitors found a way to stay on for a 49.025. Most Georgia fans will probably tell you that Katie Heenan's beam routine that night turned Georgia's season from a subpar year to a regular title contender. Heenan was Georgia's final gymnast of the night on beam and scored a 9.675, nearly falling at the end of her routine. Somehow she stayed on, and drew one of the loudest ovations of the year from the Stegeman Coliseum crowd.
2005 NCAA Championships
1. Georgia - 197.825
Nikki Childs (Bars*, Beam*),
"We knew the stars had to align for Georgia to win. This championship isn't just for this group of girls here tonight. This one is for every girl that has been on our teams since the championship team in 1999. We spent a lot of time working together to get back to where we were before the Regionals. I knew the Regional was just a fluke. Lightning doesn't strike Georgia twice in a row. We emphasized the total team aspect. Everyone on this team had a role in what happened. We had to tighten the screws up. The girls responded well. They did everything we asked of them."
- Coach Suzanne Yoculan
"We had all of our mistakes on beam at Regionals, and it was a little nerve-wracking knowing that was what we had to start off with (in the Super Six). We knew we had to hit our beams to get the momentum rolling for the rest of the night. We hit our routines consistently and made everything count."
- Kelsey Ericksen