ATHENS, Ga. — At the end of Courtney Kupets Carter’s opening statement during her introduction as Georgia’s new gymnastics coach Tuesday, she looked straight at the camera broadcasting the announcement.
“Georgia gymnastics will win championships again,” Kupets Carter said.
As an athlete, Kupets Carter knew how to do that. Now, she’ll try as a first-time collegiate head coach – with former head coach Suzanne Yoculan Leebern as a volunteer coach.
“I am going to bring back the tradition of Georgia gymnastics,” Kupets Carter said. “There are so many alums, a few of them in here, know the passion of understanding that Georgia did not start on top. It was built and that started with Suzanne Yoculan Leebern and so many athletes coming here with the vision and the dream to make what Suzanne first envisioned possible.”
Yoculan Leebern won 10 national titles at Georgia, including five consecutive before retiring in 2009. The last four came with Kupets Carter – who was named by the NCAA as the best-ever collegiate women’s gymnast in April – leading the way.
The squad also won two SEC championships with Kupets Carter from 2006-2009. She also won eight SEC event titles and nine NCAA individual crowns during that stretch and won the Honda Award in 2007 and 2009.
She won a silver medal as a member of the 2004 Olympic team and an individual bronze on bars. She was working as a coach, mainly with beginning gymnasts. She was a student coach with Georgia in 2010 under Jay Clark, who is now an assistant LSU.
Since Yoculan Leebern’s exit in 2009, Georgia has not finished higher than fifth at the NCAA Championships, though the Gymdogs have made three Super Six appearances. Georgia fired Danna Durante in April after five seasons with the program, including a 12th-place finish at the NCAA Championships this season.
“As you look into the landscape in college coaching now, especially in our situation here, I thought it was important to have a link to the past,” Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity said. “Someone like Courtney brings so many intangibles to the table as far as being the greatest gymnast of all time.”
McGarity said having Yoculan Leebern available in a volunteer role could be a “great start” to building a staff.
“I think the world of her,” Kupets Carter said of Yoculan Leebern. “I thinks he’s done an amazing job and she’s willing to come back and be a part of this, to me that was the biggest question. When I first asked her, it was kind of this joking, honestly, because she’s in retirement. She gets to do what she wants right now. This is work to take on and I’m so appreciative of that.”
McGarity also noted that both women were hired at Georgia with similar resumes — both were 30 years old. Both were first-time college coaches.
“Today, in many ways, history is repeating itself,” McGarity said.
It’s something that Yoculan Leebern saw in Kupets Carter as a student-athlete, especially in the last two seasons she was on the team.
“The way she led the team, the way she inspired the team, the way that she handles her own personal business, her mental toughness under pressure,” Yoculan Leebern said. “Those are all things that she has a total handle on and related that very well to her teammates. I’m very confident that as a head coach she’ll be able to relate to that as well.”