A decade ago, Courtney Kupets Carter was part of the greatest dynasty in the history of college gymnastics. She was the top gymnast at a program on its way to five consecutive national titles. When securing that fifth consecutive banner, Georgia had just earned its 10th-ever championship. The Gym Dogs were the premier program in the sport.
But since her final season in 2009, which was also former head coach Suzanne Yoculan Leebern's last year at the helm, the Gym Dogs haven't enjoyed that same kind of elite success. They've had good years, sure. But they haven't had the kind of run Kupets Carter enjoyed as a gymnast. When she was hired, Kupets Carter said her goal was to ensure that Georgia "will win championships again."
In her second meet as a head coach, Kupets Carter got to see where the team she inherited stacked up against the program that closest resembles the Georgia teams of old at the moment. When Georgia vacated the dynastic role, a few teams stepped in to fill the void. Oklahoma, the defending national champions and No. 1 team in the land, was one of those teams to do so.
Georgia fell to Oklahoma 197.550-196.600 Monday in front of a packed Stegeman Coliseum crowd of 10,072 people. The meet served as a measuring stick for how the Gym Dogs compare to the best team in the nation. But more importantly, the Gym Dogs showed improvement from Friday's opening-season loss at Alabama, which was something Kupets Carter was pleased to see.
"It was mentality," Kupets Carter said. "The gymnastics have been there. It's been there for a while actually, since November. After Alabama, we realized we had more to do. I thought they were a little closer to where they can get out to a performance and perform."
In her first-ever season as a collegiate head coach, Kupets Carter is still discovering what will and won't work with her team. But one thing she has brought is a different attitude to the program.
Senior Vivi Babilas said Kupets Carter, who replaced Danna Durante after a five-year run at Georgia, has brought an uplifting style of coaching that has been well received.
"She has brought passion, positivity and motivation," Babalis said. "She's so positive, even after the (Alabama) meet. Yeah, we have things to work on. Yeah, we have things to improve on. But she never got down. She has faith in us. It's that faith and trust in us helps with our confidence."
The end goal is to make Georgia nationally relevant again. While the Bulldogs reached the Super Six three times in Durante's five years, they never finished higher than fifth. Kupets Carter has brought a fresh perspective to her team while incorporating what worked when she was a gymnast at Georgia
Part of that had to do with bringing Yoculan Leebern back as a volunteer assistant. Junior Sydney Snead said the two of them are using certain methods that worked when Yoculan Leebern was Georgia's head coach.
"She has definitely changed the entire environment -- way more positive," junior Sydney Snead said. " She definitely instills confidence in all of us, which has been huge this year and you can definitely see it. Not only in our workouts, that competition right there, she has so much experience, which has been big for us. She was an athlete here once. She knows what we're going through. She can relate to us. To be able to take what she has told us and the stories she has told us, it's very motivating. It definitely motivates us in the gym."
Now that the Gym Dogs have competed twice, Kupets Carter is beginning to understand more about how her team operates. One tip she gave her team after the Alabama loss Friday was to relax, which Kupets Carter believes helped in an improved performance that resulted in a two-point increase only three days later.
"There is a way for this team to do that and they're very capable," Kupets Carter said. "It's just about them finding it. They need to find it before we'll be there."