ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia seniors Kim Arnold and Julie Ballard remember what it was like watching UCLA win the NCAA gymnastics championship last April -- and it wasn't a pleasant feeling.
Three falls on beam to open the competition took away any chance the Gym Dogs had of challenging the Lady Bruins for the coveted crown and left the Georgia squad wondering what might have happened.
Nine months later, the Gym Dogs have a chance at redemption as second-ranked Georgia hosts No. 1 UCLA tonight at 7 in Stegeman Coliseum.
"For me, I'm more excited to get the first meet going and get the season off. I'm not thinking, `Ooh, it's UCLA, we've got to beat them,"' Arnold said. "I'd be motivated if it was anybody, but obviously since it is UCLA, you know it's going to be a good meet and we're going to have to be at our best."
"It was unfortunate the way it turned out but we were glad to fight back and finish third," she said. "But to see them win it, we've always liked to see them succeed because they are a program that likes to do tough gymnastics and challenge themselves. If had to be somebody else, then it could be UCLA."
But don't get the impression that Georgia, the defending Southeastern Conference champion, is going into this meet with anything but a victory in mind. As preparation for the upcoming campaign got under way in early September, all sights were set on making another national title run.
"A lot of teams don't train like we do. We plant the seed in September -- we water, we fertilize, we coddle, we cater, we condition, we do all that hard pulling the weeds, and tending to everyone all fall long so we can reap the benefits now," Georgia coach Suzanne Yoculan said. "It's going to be race right to the end and this is just the starting point."
Arnold, the defending NCAA all-around champion, enters the season with 14 career 10.0s on vault, although any future perfection will be difficult due to a new code of points under which all gymnasts will be competing this season. While the new code applies to all events, a 10.0 start value for a vault will be tougher to come by.
Currently, only two Gym Dogs have such a vault, sisters Karin and Kristi Lichey, who along with Ballard and Arnold, head Georgia's lineup for tonight's meet.
Karin Lichey will be the lone Gym Dog competing the all-around, with Arnold, Sam Muhleman and Stacey Galloway doing three events each.
In UCLA, the Gym Dogs will be facing a team that includes two former Olympians in Stella Umeh (Canada) and Luisa Portacarrero (Guatemala). Team co-captains Kiralee Hayashi and two-time Canadian national champion Lena Degteva also return. The Lady Bruins also boast the top recruit from last year in Mohini Bhardwaj, who took fifth place on vault at the 1997 World Championships.
"We're definitely ready," Arnold said. "We're all excited, and a little bit nervous too since it is the first meet. But we're ready and I think we've all prepared pretty well."
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