Georgia's Gym Dogs reclaimed the SEC title Saturday night at Gwinnett Arena, with Providence grad and Auburn gymnast Lindsey Puckett earning Co-SEC Gymnast of the Year honors.
The Gym Dogs claimed their 16th conference title by the smallest of margins, topping both Alabama and defending champion Florida 197.350-197.325. But even that wasn't sure until the very end.
"(Georgia coach Suzanne Yoculan) was like grab this box, and we opened it," Brookwood grad and sophomore Gym Dog Lauren Sessler said.
The box had SEC Champion T-shirts in it.
"She's like, well, I wouldn't have told you to open it if you didn't win, so we were going crazy. And then we got word that Alabama had won. So it was kind of up and down in a 10 second period, and we just really weren't sure. It was really close but really exciting."
"There was some high drama in the locker room," said Yoculan, who was one of three Co-SEC Coaches of the Year. "I've never been in a situation like that where people from the scoring table didn't even know where it was."
Sessler charted a 9.700 in Georgia's vault lineup.
Puckett, a junior at Auburn, had a 39.425 in the all-around, tying her second best score of the season. Her award came as a surprise too.
"I'm shocked," Puckett said. "When he said it was a two-way tie I thought it was between Alabama and LSU (gymnasts). I knew I was nominated but I had no idea that I would actually win."
Puckett was ranked as the conference's top all-rounder at one point during the regular season, and tied for seventh Saturday.
"She was my best friend growing up, we did gymnastics together," said Audrey Bowers, a Parkview grad and Gym Dog senior. "I couldn't have asked for a better person to win SEC Athlete of the Year this year. She's incredible and she's worked very hard this year."
After shaky floor and vault showings, the Gym Dogs stepped it up on the uneven bars.
Following senior Nikki Childs' fall in the leadoff spot, Georgia rattled off five scores of at least 9.85 for a 49.500 combined score, tying its second-best performance of the season.
"That was an exciting moment, it was very déjà vu from Florida in NCAAs," said sophomore Grace Taylor, who celebrated her 20th birthday Saturday.
"It was momentum and that energy and it was really exciting ... we live for those moments."
The Gym Dogs won their third consecutive national title last season by beating Florida, again, by a mere quarter of a point.
Georgia's Cassidy McComb was also named the SEC's Freshman of the Year. Once again, it came as a surprise.
"I had no idea, I didn't even really know that they did SEC Freshman of the Year," said McComb, a Las Vegas, Nev. native. "I came (to Athens) really intimidated and didn't even know if I was going to be good enough to compete."
Despite surprises aplenty, Bowers thought the return of the conference title to Athens was a long time coming.
"We finally got it back," she said.