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NCAA gymanstics take center stage at Arena

The Arena at Gwinnett Center

The Arena at Gwinnett Center

DULUTH -- The SEC Gymnastics Championship was a dress rehearsal of sorts when it was held at The Arena at Gwinnett Center last month.

And five SEC teams, plus two individuals from a sixth, will be among the 12 teams taking center stage for opening night for the main event, the 2012 NCAA Gymnastics Championships, which get under way today at the Arena.

It will be a slightly different atmosphere for those SEC representatives, including hometown favorite Georgia, which will battle seven other programs from throughout the country in two semifinals -- the first at noon and the second at 6 p.m. -- in hopes of being one of the six qualifiers for Saturday's team finals.

But the experience of having competed on the same floor in front of a similar crowd could prove to those team's advantage.

"Well, you hope it prepares the teams that have had the advantage of being in here, being on this podium," Georgia coach Jay Clark said. "You'd think we'd all have a little bit greater level of comfort than the other teams that have not been in this arena. But I don't know how much of an advantage it really is. Everybody's got to compete on the same equipment and breathe the same air."

And as tough as the competition was at the SEC meet, it will be even tougher for the Gym Dogs, who will battle SEC champion Florida, Alabama, Arkansas, Ohio State and Oregon State in today's second semifinal.

The earlier semifinal will also feature six of the nation's top teams in LSU, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Stanford, UCLA and Utah.

But as Nebraska coach Dan Kendig points out, neither his Cornhuskers, nor any other team involved, can worry about the competition, and must remain focused on their own performances.

"I just feel like we've just got to go do our job," Kendig said. "We've got the ability. We've just got to be within ourselves and trust what we're doing.

"The bottom line is, we're just going to stay focused on us. ... It's not like (there are) offense and defense and you can scout out (the opponent) and see who we're going to guard. But I just feel like we're in a good place. We're confident on the road and have competed well on the road."

Being on the road won't be a problem for the Gym Dogs, who should again have a lot of fan support this weekend, something senior Kat Ding says she and her teammates are eagerly looking forward to.

"In meets this big, (fan support) really is important," Ding said. "It's good to hear the crowd on your side, to have them going when you're going and feel the emotion. It's the most important thing. It's having people by your side every step of the way."

In addition to the team competition, Ding and several other Gym Dogs will be part of a loaded field competing in the individual all-around competition, including such names as SEC all-around champion Kytra Hunter of Florida, Ashley Priess and Kim Jacob of Alabama, Jaime Pisani of Arkansas, Brianna Guy and Kylie Shields of Auburn, Rheagan Courville of LSU, Morgan Evans of North Carolina and Rachel Finchem of N.C. State.