Georgia returns 11 gymnasts from the 2011 squad including NCAA uneven bars champion Kat Ding and All-Americans Lindsey Cheek and Noel Couch. This year’s roster includes three seniors, four juniors, five sophomores and five freshmen.
This marks the 14th all-time meeting between Georgia and Denver, with Georgia holding a 13-0 advantage. This is only the second dual meet between the two schools and the first in Athens. Georgia traveled to Denver for the season opener last year and won a quad meet at Magness Arena with a 195.575. BYU finished second, ahead of Denver and Air Force.
Denver was one of Georgia’s opponents at the 2008 NCAA Regional at Penn State when the Gym Dogs posted a 49.575 on the balance beam, the third highest beam score in program history. UGA won the meet with a 197.775, and Denver finished second with a 195.775.
Both teams advanced to the NCAA Championships, where Georgia won the fourth of five straight NCAA titles.
Under head coach Jay Clark, Georgia is undefeated in season openers, winning the 2010 opener against No. 7 Stanford, 195.150-105.050, and in 2011 the Gym Dogs placed first in a quad-meet with Denver, BYU and Air Force with a 195.575.
UGA last lost a season-opener in 2008 when it fell on the road to third-ranked Utah despite scoring a 196.200. Georgia has won seven straight home openers since it lost to 10th-ranked UCLA, 197.850-197.475, to start the 2004 season.
Georgia has five freshmen on the 2012 roster, the most since it had six freshmen in 2007. Chelsea Davis (Austin, Texas), Sarah Persinger (Mount Holly, N.C.) and Camille Pfister (Kennesaw, Ga.) have been with the team since the fall, while Demetria Hunt (Alpharetta, Ga.) and Whitney Kirby (Claremont, N.C.) joined the team in December.
Georgia sophomore Kaylan Earls will make her long-awaited Gym Dog debut Friday against Denver. Earls, who was a former J.O. national champion, ruptured her Achilles tendon while practicing in Athens nine days before the start of the 2011 season.
Vault specialist Bekah Bennetts is also back for the Gym Dogs after missing last season with an ankle injury.
In the preseason coaches’ poll, Georgia came in at No. 9, which is where it finished the 2011 season. The Gym Dogs were ranked in the top-10 each week last year. Denver is ranked No. 20.
Georgia will travel to Tuscaloosa to take on defending national champion and second-ranked Alabama Jan. 13 at 8:30 p.m. Georgia holds a 79-46-2 advantage in the all-time series, but the Crimson Tide have won the last four meetings. It will be the season opener for Alabama.