Sports Guru's Note
by Jeff Dantzler
Georgia athletics could be in for a banner winter and spring.
On the hardwood, the Bulldogs secured a huge win over Kentucky in the Southeastern Conference opener. As fans of every school in the league know, victories over the Wildcats have been rare through the years and they are tough to come by. Mark Fox is an excellent coach with a lot of talent, led by Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie. There’s no question that the Bulldogs can contend for the Southeastern Conference title in the rough and tough East division, which could have five NCAA Tournament teams. Come March, the Dogs could be poised for a run in the dance.
As usual, legendary hall of fame coach Andy Landers has another outstanding squad. The Lady Dogs captured their SEC opener and upset then No. 10 Kentucky, breaking the ‘Cats 25 game home court winning streak. They have a great opportunity to contend in the league and receive an invitation to the NCAA Tournament. Georgia has received bids to 27 of the 29 all-time tournaments.
Jack Bauerle has another pair of fantastic swimming teams. The women, with Chelsea Nauta amongst the standouts, could contend for the program’s fifth national championship. The men will be in the running for another top ten finish. Bauerle, head coach of the 2008 United States Olympic Women’s Swimming team, was on the blue ribbon search committee for Georgia’s then vacant athletic director position and had a big role in the extremely popular and unifying hire of Greg McGarity.
It’s tough to follow a legend, particularly one who won 10 national championships, including five in a row to close out a phenomenal career. Jay Clark, as an ace recruiter, had a huge role in Suzanne Yoculan’s incredible success. With Cassidy McComb amongst the top performers, Georgia’s gymnastics team is banking on being right back in the thick of the national championship race.
On the links, Kelly Hester’s women’s golf team will be one of the SEC’s best. Chris Haack’s men’s team is loaded and a prime contender for the national and Southeastern Conference championships.
The same can be said of Georgia’s two tennis teams.
Jeff Wallace has a typically strong team, led by defending NCAA singles champion Chelsea Gullickson. Her southpaw brother Craig – more on the David Perno’s Diamond Dogs to follow – will help anchor Georgia’s pitching rotation.
Georgia’s men are stacked. Along with returning standouts Drake Bernstein and Javier Garrapiz, the Bulldogs welcome in the country’s top class with seven newcomers. There’s no program in the land that has enjoyed the consistency and camaraderie of Georgia tennis. The NCAA Championships are in Palo Alto this year, and both Georgia teams will have a shot at that precious trophy. The tournament returns home to Athens in 2012.
Wayne Norton has a new track and men’s and women’s teams that will be amongst the best in the SEC. At the top of the list is one of the elite athletes not just at Georgia, but in the world. Torrin Lawrence is one of the fastest runners on the planet. NCAA championships and a berth on the Olympic track team could be in the cards for this phenom.
On the diamond, Georgia’s lineup and defense will be amongst the best in the SEC, led by electric center fielder Zack Cone. The big question mark is on the mound. Gullickson, fellow lefty Alex Wood and junior righty Michael Pallazone are the leading candidates to hold down the three weekend rotation spots. Hard throwing righty Cecil Tanner is a big key to the bullpen. David Perno has done great things at Georgia, highlighted by three trips to the College World Series, two SEC titles and five of the program’s 10 all-time NCAA tournament berths. It’s so tough in the SEC, especially with the incredible facility upgrades around the league, but Georgia will certainly have the type of team capable of making it to the postseason. And for the near future, the Bulldogs recruiting class – the freshmen of the 2012 campaign – has been ranked No. 2 nationally.