Bulldogs Beat

How UGA’s Mikayla Magee transformed from shy freshman to gymnast who ‘attacks everything’

Georgia’s Mikayla Magee during a gymnastics meet between the University of Georgia and University of Arkansas in Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Ga., on Friday, Feb. 1, 2019.
Georgia’s Mikayla Magee during a gymnastics meet between the University of Georgia and University of Arkansas in Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Ga., on Friday, Feb. 1, 2019. Special to the Telegraph

A long white rope is bolted to the ceiling of the gymnastics practice gym. It drapes to the floor dangles far in the back corner, probably because it’s the last thing any of the Georgia GymDogs want sight of.

It’s primarily used for conditioning tests and requires a fair amount of fitness. A gymnast starts by sitting on the ground in pike position. Once grasping hold of the rope, tell your legs goodbye as the climb begins. Senior Sydney Snead took her chances in the preseason and an upward hike quickly became a spiral down into seated (maybe somewhat sprawled) position.

If it isn’t obvious, a successful climb to the ceiling tiles is a rather-triumphant feat.

Prior to the season, Georgia head coach Courtney Kupets Carter almost had to use it as punishment. Her task was to jolt some of Mikayla Magee’s shyness out of her system. Magee, a freshman, doesn’t say all too much.

Inside Georgia’s gym, however, that trait doesn’t always work. It even made some of her coaches wonder, “Does she want to do this? Does she not? Is she working hard?”

A glance toward the corner solved that problem. Magee was struggling with her beam dismount during practice and couldn’t seem to get a hold of it. Kupets Carter decided it was time to issue a challenge: “If you don’t land this dismount straight, your whole team has to climb the rope.”

Magee paused, mouth agasp. The 4-foot-10 (shortest on the roster by a whole two inches) newcomer couldn’t have her team climb the oh-so-dreaded rope. At the end of her beam routine, pulling a term from fellow freshman Rachael Lukacs, it was a “BAM!” moment. Magee stuck it, avoided the rope and any possible annoyance from her teammates.

“She has that confidence and demeanor, but you can’t see it on the outside because of her personality,” Kupets Carter said. “She doesn’t have her emotions on her face.”

Magee hears this question tirelessly: “Where’s the fire, Mikayla?” As Georgia has reached its peak and climbed the proverbial mountain toward a No. 3 seed in national championships, Magee has done the same. Once apprehensive as the rotation opener for the GymDogs on vault and floor, there’s a newfound ferocity, consistency and jolt of energy.

Magee has been a constant for Georgia, especially on vault. Her season started with her first four scores between 9.75-9.825, compared to the latter half of the GymDogs’ lineup posting 9.9s-or-higher on a weekly basis.

“I was a little nervous and anxious, but then I talked to (sophomore) Marissa (Oakley) on how to deal with the crowd,” said Magee, referencing Oakley’s experience with opening the vault rotation last season. “She told me to take it in and go with it, so I did.”

Sophomore GymDog Marissa Oakley said she's had stumbling points this season but has focused on building up her skills and confidence during practice so meets feel "normal." Georgia (5-3) beat Kentucky 197.300-197.225 Friday night.

There was a three-way battle at times between Magee, Oakley and freshman Abbey Ward, switching between three roles of rotation opener, No. 2 spot and the alternate. That’s a luxury that Georgia didn’t have last season, but one that also brings pressure to the athletes. Georgia always trusted Magee but her final season at Pearland (Texas) Elite on the Junior Olympic circuit involved a few setbacks.

Kupets Carter revealed Magee’s battle with an unidentified illness and an injury. While recruiting the League City product, the GymDogs’ coaching staff saw potential for consistency on all four events. There’s potential for Magee to be an all-around competitor as her collegiate career progresses, but that all vanished for a short period of time.

“We wouldn’t know what she would deliver after a year off, but she just steadily climbed,” Kupets Carter said. “She showed us that she was capable.”

Magee found her stride between the Elevate the Stage event and Georgia’s appearance in the SEC Championships. Once uncertain of herself, Magee’s moment came in the midst of competing on three events (vault, beam and floor) which began Feb. 1 against Arkansas.

Georgia GymDog Sabrina Vega spoke with media following a big win over Arkansas. She said she's focused on building her score in vault, and credits her progress to encouragement and training from coaching staff.

Most of the routines were suddenly resulting in a stick, and consistency was amplified to another level. Her reserved personality gradually became more exuberant and outgoing, even letting out a few screams — another quality long-desired by Kupets Carter.

Magee’s hot streak began during senior night against Utah in which the newcomer made a statement with a career-high 9.875 on two events. Then came the GymDogs’ strong run at NCAA regionals. Magee posted a 9.85 on vault to open Friday’s meet, had a hiccup on balance beam and surged Georgia to a season-high 198.050 in Saturday’s meet with a 9.85 on floor to open the competition.

“She’s settled into her groove, and she knows she’s got it,” junior all-around gymnast Rachel Dickson said. “Everyone else knows it, too, and that’s helped a lot.”

Entering Georgia’s appearance at national championships, Magee has cemented her spot on vault and beam with the rest of her teammates. Kupets Carter’s only lineup question, however, is on floor routine. She likes both Magee and Sami Davis to open the floor rotation, and may alternate their lineup spot as Georgia did in regionals.

Magee’s solidified spot allows her to breathe. She will get to display her skills close to home as her freshman season wraps up in Fort Worth, Texas. Magee will have four or five family members in attendance, including her father who will see her compete collegiately for the first time.

“She’s the one to get us going,” Lukacs said. “We suddenly have a surge of momentum all the way to the last person who lands their routine.”

In a span of seven months, a quiet-mannered Magee has come a long way. Once she’s asked to stick another landing, a look toward the rope might not be so daring.

“She has fun and shines out there,” Lukacs said. “She attacks everything and knows her spot is crucial to the lineup.”