A university marked by unparalleled athletics, the University of Georgia stands tall on the rod iron arches of excellence. Ringing with glory, the sound of victory echoes through the Classic City, and the Georgia faithful rejoice for the Chapel Bell as it signifies a win. Although football is the most attended sporting event at our fine university, the other athletic programs also have their share of success. Their histories are filled with victories and championships, so I’d like to recognize their achievements of the past and anticipate what each of their bright futures hold.
Over the past year and a half, I have spent a lot of time at the Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall working under the great Claude Felton and many other sports information directors. As an intern, I have seen both highs and lows of almost every sport, yet my respect for all of the UGA athletic programs and the staff that supports each one in the sports communication department is continuously growing because of the strenuous work it demands. Yes, we’ve all heard success is a process that takes time and effort, but I have seen hours upon hours of grinding work that helps foster our unbelievable athletic program, and the people whom I have the privilege to work with are the backbones. Without further adieu, here are updates on the Georgia sports programs that participate in the first half of the year.
SWIMMING & DIVING
On the swimming and diving front, the Gabrielsen Natatorium at the Ramsey Student Center, home to your Georgia Swimming and Diving teams, hosted this year’s Southeastern Conference tournament, where the men’s and women’s teams each placed fourth in the conference in the team events. This historic program led by a past interviewee of mine (and also featured in JD’s terrific column on page 10), Coach Jack Bauerle, has led the women’s team to seven national championships including their most recent 2016 crown. And they have earned an impressive 12 SEC titles. The men have tacked on three more league banners to the undeniably fantastic history of Georgia swimming. Currently, this program awaits the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships that take place March 20-30 in Austin, Texas, so for our Texas Dawgs reading this, make your way to Austin to support your swimming and diving team.
Out in Bishop, Georgia where hooves stomp and the reigning SEC Champs hang their banners, the UGA equestrian squad continues to be amongst one of the nation’s best programs. The 2018 SEC Champs made a national title appearance at the 2018 NCEA tournament where they fell short to conference foe Auburn in the finals. However, the team has a total of six national championships to fill our history, the most recent coming in 2014. The team is riding through their 2019 campaign in what could be seen as a step back from last season, but with a strong conclusion to this season could leave the riders right at .500 on the year and in perfect position to compete for the conference title. A new facility for the team is being built as we speak, and an exciting future awaits these girls and their horses.
On the hardwood, the Hoop Dawgs have faced a rather tough season, but with head coach Tom Crean at the helm of rebuilding our program, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Coming off a huge victory over Florida in Gainesville, Crean’s team continues to fight to the end. His team is fighting to the end in every game and, of course, there was the big news of the program signing of No. 1 overall player in the nation, Anthony Edwards. The stud, known as AntMan, is a talented guard out of Holy Spirit Preparatory School in Atlanta who will come to Athens with high anticipation. Throughout the losing season for Georgia, fans have still filled Stegeman Coliseum, selling out multiple times, which was a huge factor in the the AntMan’s commitment. In a 78-75 loss to Auburn, the Dawg fans set an attendance record, so, as we can see, the culture and hype surrounding Georgia basketball is obviously on the rise, and bringing the highest rated recruit in the history of our program might tip us over the edge to a nationally relevant team once again. Side note on Anthony Edwards’ recruitment; he revealed his commitment in the best fashion I have ever seen before. I advise checking out the link at BulldawgIllustrated.com to watch his awesome commitment with a little help from his nephew.
For the Lady Dogs, a season to remember, but maybe not in a way you expected. Success is a given for the Lady Dogs as it can be seen stitched to the banners that hang from the rafters of Stegeman, and in the 2017-18 campaign, excellence was present. Going 26-7 on the year and 12-4 in the league, the Lady Dogs marched right into March Madness as a host of the first two rounds of the Women’s NCAA tournament. After an early exit in the round of 32, the ladies devoted the offseason to “closing the gap” as coined by head coach Joni Taylor. Along the journey of the 2018-19 season, the young Lady Dogs showed flashes of greatness, upsetting SEC East rival Tennessee but also showed times of inexperience. With a strong finish to the season and a run in the SEC tournament, an NCAA tournament bid might be in the future in a few weeks. As for “a season to remember,” Coach Taylor gave birth to her second daughter, Drew Simone Taylor. It was February 19, just a mere 10 hours after knocking off Ole Miss 78-56. And then a short 48 hours after that, she sat on the bench as an assistant for the Lady Dogs’ 93-83 win over Arkansas.
As goes for the GymDogs, everyone knows their history of 10 national championships, 16 conference championships, and arguably the greatest coach in college gymnastics ever, Suzanne Yoculan-Leebern. Now, under the leadership of Courtney Kupets Carter (a Yoculan-Leebern pupil), we’re back where the GymDogs belong, the national stage. Thus far, the 2019 season includes major conference and non-conference wins, including recent victories over Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa State, and Ohio State. The SECs are around the corner and then something special comes to Athens in April as the GymDogs and Stegeman Coliseum are hosting the NCAA Regionals, April 4-6. Trust me, the intensity of post-season gymnastics is well worth your time and money. Not to mention, you hopefully contribute to our gymnasts advancing to the Nationals to compete for their 11th national title. High aspirations, I know, but it is very possible with our outstanding staff and squad.
Right down the street from the coliseum at Foley Field, the Georgia baseball season has just begun, and after an amazing 2018 season, the Diamond Dawgs entered the 2019 campaign as No. 9 in the nation. Third baseman and relief pitcher, Aaron Schunk, earned preseason All-American honors and has made a statement with his bat so far this season. Another interesting nugget surrounding the ballpark involves head coach Scott Stricklin’s parents. After attending every single Georgia baseball game since the beginning of Stricklin’s stint here at UGA, his parents missed this year’s February 15 game with Dayton due to his father falling ill. But the fans took matters in their own hands, printing a large FatHead cut out of his parents’ faces to help Coach cope with their absence. Coming off of an incredible 2018 season, as I mentioned earlier, the stakes are once again high for this UGA athletic program. In the SEC, baseball is just like football, domination. It is the toughest conference as seven other teams filled the preseason top 25 along with Georgia. Conference championships are tough to attain in this league, but just like gymnastics and many other UGA programs, this group is right in the mix of potential title holders.
At the Jack Turner Softball Stadium (a.k.a “The Jack”), the softball team follows the common trend of Georgia athletics, successful. After a terrific run last year with an overall record of 48-13, the softball team hosted both the regional and super regional, punching their ticket to the Women’s College World Series. Their run was cut short after a loss to Florida then Florida State. However, greatness awaits this team in 2019, for they entered the season at No. 8 in the nation, and they just will not stop climbing in the rankings. Head Coach, Lu Harris-Champer, is in her 19th season as the head coach with a decorated resume. She’s led the softball team to 17-straight NCAA tournament trips, two SEC regular season titles, one SEC tournament title, 10 NCAA Super Regional outings, and four appearances in the Women’s College World Series, two of which took place within the last three seasons. I’ve said this for other Georgia athletics, and I’ll say it again, this program is destined to do fantastic things over the course of the rest of their season.
And for the Georgia tennis programs, a recent national champion was just crowned. Coach Jeff Wallace’s women claimed their sixth national title at the ITA Indoor Championship. The 16-time SEC Champs are right on track to claim their 17th with prime timers like Katrina Jokic on the court. She is just the fifth female in collegiate women’s tennis to win a grand slam, and she led Georgia to their seventh singles championship in program history. After she closed out the fall with a singles grand slam at the ITA Fall Singles Championship, she was rated the No. 1 singles player in the nation. Over on the men’s side of the court, they are a force to be reckoned with, as well. As Dan Magill built this program, the nationally renowned program has grown to be a threat in the tournament each year as top a tiered men’s tennis program. With six national championships and two more indoor championships, the Dawgs are consistent winners, and this year is no different. Manny Diaz and crew are rolling in 2019 and a conference tournament championship along with an NCAA tournament bid are always in the picture. I highly suggest taking a trip to the Dan Magill Tennis Complex to view a men’s or women’s match. The complex was just approved to undergo a $8.5 million renovation to the grandstands and a resurfacing of the 12 outdoor and 4 indoor courts.
At the UGA Golf Course, excellence is bred just like in many of the other programs. The 2019 women’s golf team has opened up this season with some great finishes in tough tournaments. Closing out the month of January, they capped off the Duel in the Desert with a second place finish; in February, they finished eighth in the Lady Puerto Rico Classic, and another second place finish at the Gold Rush. A huge part of this team’s early success is due to freshman Harmie Constantino. The Philippine freshman phenom is just 4’8 but packed with talent and skill. And for men’s golf, the guys kicked off their spring season with a bang, capturing head coach Chris Haack’s 61st victory with a win at the Puerto Rico Classic. A close family-friend of ours and past interviewee of mine, Will Kahlstorf, is a part of this golf team and making a statement as a freshman, earning an invite to the Puerto Rico tournament. He’s an exceptional golfer and an even better person, so I felt it necessary to mention his name in this article. Mark your calendar for May 13-15 as the men’s team will be hosting the NCAA Regionals at the UGA Golf Course. While the men practice every day at the their home course, it’s been almost 10 years since they played a competitive round at the Robert Trent Jones designed gem.
TRACK & FIELD
Last and certainly not least, I’ll take you down on South Lumpkin Street to the Spec Towns Track, where the reigning men’s outdoor champions and women’s indoor champions reside. The unbelievable run by both teams resulted in their first ever national titles. A person deserving the attention of the entire Bulldog Nation is our very own Keturah Orji. She has specialized in the triple jump but also long jumps. She set the United States record for the triple jump, then beat it, which has since been broken by Tori Franklin. Before Franklin broke it, her triple jump record was a whopping 14.71 meters or 48 feet 3 inches. She served as a triple jumping Olympian in the 2016 Rio De Janeiro Olympics and was just honored by the NCAA as the woman of the year in all of college athletics and became the first Bulldog to win the Bowerman Award, the highest collegiate honor in track and field (the Heisman Trophy of Track and Field). Head coach, Petros Kyprianou, in his fourth season, exudes great leadership. Talk about a neat guy, I follow him on Instagram and he just does everything. From dirt biking to cooking and all the way back to coaching, this man lives life right. There’s no doubt in mind that this program has a few more Nattys coming its way.
As you can tell, I’m quite passionate about all UGA athletic programs, thus I challenge each and every Bulldog fan to attend a game, match, or tournament of one of these sports this spring. We tend to focus on football, and the rest of these fine programs get a fraction of our attention. Like I said earlier, UGA breeds excellence, success, victories, and championships, so I urge you to share the love and give to these athletics. And this fall in BI, be on the lookout when I delve into the fall athletic programs (other than King Football) here at Georgia. But for now, Go Dawgs!