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Post End-of-year wrapup

Friday June 23, 2006

Georgia’s elimination from the College World Series brought the sports year to an end for Georgia’s athletics teams. Summer is a dry, dry desert for fans of college sports. But we’re only about six weeks away from football practice (doesn’t seem that long now, does it?). As you’d expect after such a good year for so many of Georgia’s teams, the high points definitely outnumber the lows.

High Points:

  • SEC All-Sports Trophy.
    For the first time, Georgia unseated Florida as the SEC’s best all-around athletic department. It’s a paper award, but it speaks to the all-around strength of the University’s sports programs.
  • Gym Dogs dominance.
    They didn’t lose a meet in 2006 and handled the pressures of being #1 from start to finish while defending their national title. The Gym Dogs have been good before, but they are now set up for an incredible run. If health holds up, they’re looking at a dynasty.
  • SEC football title.
    Dawg fans lived without a conference title for 20 years. Now they’ve played for three titles since 2002 and won twice. D.J. Shockley and company defied the conventional wisdom that they should be down after losing Greene, Pollack, Davis, and Thurman and instead returned to the top of the SEC. Only a midseason injury to Shockley kept the 2005 season from being even better.
  • Diamond Dawgs to the College World Series.
    What a ride. Up, down, and then way up. The Diamond Dawgs seemed dead in the water around mid-April, but they put it together down the SEC homestretch to earn hosting rights for the NCAA Tournament. The momentum took them all the way back to Omaha with two dramatic postseason series against Florida State and South Carolina. Three trips to the College World Series in six years clearly marks the glory days for Georgia baseball.
  • Jennifer Dahlgren.
    Who? Jennifer Dahlgren. Just the Women’s Field Athlete of the Year, the best in the nation in women’s track and field. She won national titles in weight throw and hammer throw and set several SEC and NCAA records. Many didn’t notice, but women’s track at Georgia had probably their best year ever this year and finished ninth at the NCAA championships this spring.
  • Rolling in the cash.
    The Dawgs are just as successful at the bank as they are on the field. It might prove to be just a temporary blip, but Georgia made headlines as the nation’s most profitable athletic department. The recent strength of the football program as well as a restructuring of the seating priority system has donations soaring while expenses have been kept sane.

Low Points:

Apollo Creed
Georgia takes the field for the Sugar Bowl
  • Late-season collapse in men’s hoops.
    A respectable nonconference performance which included a nice rout of Georgia Tech had fans pretty pumped about the prospects for improvement over the dismal 2004-2005 season. Road SEC wins at Vandy and South Carolina gave the Dawgs their first taste of success away from home in years, and they were at or near .500 in the conference for some time. Entering February, talk of an NCAA Tournament bid was still very much realistic, and an NIT bid was safely in the bank. Georgia lost seven of their final eight games and even that NIT bid slipped away from them. The frontcourt collapsed often, and the guard play was far too inconsistent to carry the team. After a February 4th win at Vanderbilt, Georgia was 4-5 in the conference. Georgia dropped their next three games including an abysmal loss at home to Vandy, and Dennis Felton faced a minor backlash after getting on fans to appreciate what was going on in the program right as the season went in the tank.
  • Stunning Sugar Bowl loss.
    Georgia was living large after its SEC Championship beating of LSU. The Sugar Bowl was set up to be a coronation of Shockley and team in their own backyard. With BCS teams like Penn State, Ohio State, and Notre Dame out there, the choice of West Virginia as the opponent was almost a letdown. In short, it was every bit Apollo Creed vs. Ivan Drago, lacking only James Brown descending into the Georgia Dome during pregame. West Virginia knocked Georgia to the canvas in the first quarter, and the upset win is still causing ripples into the 2006 season. West Virginia is now positioned as a favorite on the national scene this year with Louisville as their only quality opponent. Steve Slaton and Pat White are now household names, and coaches flocked to Morgantown in the offseason to bask in the offense of Rich Rodriguez. Though a ten-win season is never a low point for a football team, the way the 2005 season ended shook the Bulldog nation. It was the outcome many national observers expected from the Boise State game.
  • Lady Dog injuries.
    Tasha Humphrey exploded onto the scene as a freshman, and with a pair of outstanding senior guards it was clear that only a little more frontcourt depth would place Georgia back among the nation’s elite teams. Coach Andy Landers added two big players to the post, and summer practices during 2005 saw a deep, talented team that could succeed against almost any style of play. Then the unthinkable happened. Not one, not two, not three, but four frontcourt players became unavailable for the season either through injury or attrition. The team was left with one frontcourt starter, one frontcourt reserve, a wing player thrust into the role of power forward, and zero depth behind that. After that lack of depth was exposed in the season opener against Baylor, it seemed like a promising season was all but gone. Instead, the Lady Dogs regrouped, made one of their more consistent runs ever through the SEC, competed with elite teams, finished third in the SEC, and advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16. By the time the season ended with a heartbreaking loss to Connecticut, Georgia had turned this low point into one of the better stories that Georgia athletics has seen in years.

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