Bulldogs Beat

Building a ‘1-2 punch’: Snead, Dickson use bond to lead GymDogs, support each other

Georgia’s Sydney Snead wishes Georgia’s Rachel Dickson good luck before her beam routine during a Gym Dogs meet in Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Ga., on Friday, Jan. 18, 2019.
Georgia’s Sydney Snead wishes Georgia’s Rachel Dickson good luck before her beam routine during a Gym Dogs meet in Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Ga., on Friday, Jan. 18, 2019. Special to the Telegraph

More from the series

GymDogs 2018-2019 Season

Georgia’s GymDogs have a new confidence and swagger this season with a squad of nine freshmen and only five returners. Here are some of the highlights from the 2018-2019 season.

Expand All

On Wednesday night, Sydney Snead was upstairs at home when she heard a knock at the front door. She looked over toward the window and saw someone holding up a bag of SweeTarts, but couldn’t immediately decipher who it was.

A few seconds later, Snead realized it was her Georgia gymnastics’ teammate Rachel Dickson who took an easy walk across the street and delivered a sweet treat. They were the gummies in fact, which are Snead’s favorite.

“I was like ‘Oh my gosh, I love these. They’re my favorite,’” Snead said. “We do stuff like that all the time.”

“You’re welcome,” Snead recalled Dickson saying as she stood at the doorstep, likely with a smile.

These instances are commonplace for a duo of GymDogs who have been through plenty together: three years competing, a coaching change with a new-look philosophy, an appearance at nationals and more. Consequently, Snead and Dickson have become best friends, and that’s a lifelong commitment built mostly outside of the gym.

There’s also an abundance of time spent in tandem at Stegeman Coliseum, too, and that’s where it translates for Georgia. As two upperclassmen (Sabrina Vega rounds out the veteran trio while two sophomores and nine freshmen round out the group), Snead and Dickson are the team’s only all-around competitors and have a major bearing on the season’s result.

Their successes were most-evident this past weekend as the GymDogs had a two-meet slate against Alabama and Iowa State. Snead started with a career-high 39.600 against the Crimson Tide, then Dickson followed with a “confident,” as she put it, 39.475 against the Cyclones.

“They’re definitely a 1-2 punch,” Georgia head coach Courtney Kupets Carter said. “They do all four events and impact our entire competition with those eight routines, and they need to be on the same page. I pulled them aside and said you have to be in this together and build this team. It’s difficult and adding to more than gymnastics.”

It’s a type of connection that can be seen in a number of different ways, and the most evident is the way Snead and Dickson stand together. Dickson, the youngest of the two as a junior, wasn’t happy with her results to open the season. There were some mistakes being made and her focus was temporarily deterred, she said, and some of it could’ve been due to an “unreal” energy at Georgia’s home meets.

Suddenly, a lack of confidence resonated in Dickson’s mind and it stemmed from falling short of her potential, at least by her standards. So, after a few falls, she opted to step into her head coach’s office with a direct message (not the Twitter kind): “It’s going to come together, don’t count me out. I’ll be there, and I know I’m not setting the right example, but I’m going to.”

“She puts that on herself, and that’s where I said she may be thinking one thing and I may be thinking another,” Kupets Carter said. “For her to do that shows that she’s grown. I trust her to get through these things and she’s capable.”

Snead, who has text conversations with Dickson on a daily basis without fail, checked in on her teammate after the Alabama meet. Dickson initiated the conversation after Snead had a career-best showing, and multiple uplifting gestures were exchanged.

The behavior comes effortlessly for the duo, quite frankly, because they’ve worked together to assist through the same situation. Snead’s most-obvious example was last season when things were changing (and rather difficult) during Kupets Carter’s first year. Georgia, following the tiring narrative that has been well-told, only competed five gymnasts on most routines last season and the pressure was immense as two team leaders -- despite Dickson being a sophomore.

A learning experience it certainly became, but the two learned the true meaning of “having each other’s back,” Snead said. So, when Dickson needed help once more, her older teammate was there to lead the support.

“She’s a motivator,” Dickson said. “You have someone on your same level, and it’s really good to have them push you. It helps your team get those scores up, and we do that for each other.”

Added Snead, who said she was proud of Dickson’s effort to take initiative, but doesn’t carry an inkling of concern: “I’m not worried about Rachel. I never was. She’s only going to continue to get better.”

Georgia also sees benefit in its 1-2 punch with their contrasting styles of leadership. For Dickson, it’s leading by example and that’s why she carried concern about her performance. She’s aware that the GymDogs have nine competitors with little-to-no collegiate experience, so she believes the burden falls on the upperclassmen.

“I need to be leading with confidence, and that goes with skills, how you compete and how you hold yourself,” Dickson said. “That’s a really important aspect in the meet.”

Snead, on the other hand, isn’t afraid to be voca. She has taken a team-first approach since Georgia hosted its First Look in early December. The GymDogs’ lone senior is all about the encouragement, and it can come across as therapeutic at times. Or like an enthusiastic head coach.

Sometimes it’s a text message or a post sent in GroupMe, or sometimes it’s simple like “hey, you can do it,” or “you’ve got it.” But each of Snead’s strategies, and there are plenty, are for the betterment of the team.

“We can pretend like (practice) is a meet to where these freshmen can get that true practice and experience,” Snead said. “Then, we do get to the meet and it’s so much more relaxed. Those words and cues are important, so when you use them in practice, things become much easier.”

The mentality spreads across the team, and stays within the 1-2 punch as well. Snead and Dickson, along with Vega, keep each other accountable in a healthy manner and don’t shy away from posing challenges. They’ll accept getting “called out,” per Snead, and also carry a collective drive to improve upon Georgia’s No. 6 ranking.

Next up for Georgia is a road trip to Auburn (7:30 p.m., SECN), and the duo is confident it can perform on the same page and post high scores on all four of their routines.

“If Sydney is on her game and I’m on mine, we’re going to be unstoppable,” Dickson said. “That’s along with the rest of the team. If Sydney hits, then I hit, we all get so hyped up. When we bring that energy and scores together, it’ll turn out really well.”

Maybe the best of the two gymnasts will hear a knock with some SweeTarts in hand.