Suzanne Yoculan got the perfect finish.
The GymDogs coach homered in her final at-bat. Won the Super Bowl in her final game. Coached her team to one last championship in her final competition.
Ted Williams, John Elway, Red Auerbach and John Wooden provide excellent company, and none of them have a thing on Yoculan.
When Georgia won the NCAA women’s gymnastics championship Friday night in Lincoln, Neb., it marked a record-tying fifth straight title, and a record 10th title overall.
That’s not to mention 16 SEC championships, and an overall record of 831-117-7. That’s a winning percentage of 88 percent, which equates to Hall of Fame no matter what league or sport you’re coaching.
In fact, you can make a winning argument that Yoculan tops Vince Dooley and Dan Magill as the best coach ever to lead a team wearing the Red and Black. But we’ll leave that debate for another day.
Today is for celebrating Yoculan’s remarkable career. A celebration unrestrained after the GymDogs’ performance in Friday’s Super Six national championship competition.
The GymDogs began with Marcia Newby falling off the bars. Instead of folding from the shock, the GymDogs responded to adversity. Freshmen Kat Ding (9.825) and Gina Nuccio (9.85) came through like upperclassmen. Grace Taylor and Tiffany Tolnay hit pressure routines before Courtney Kupets anchored with a perfect 10.
After starting with a fall, the GymDogs finished with a 49.425 score, only a tenth off their season best.
On their second rotation, the GymDogs were shaky at best on balance beam. They again suffered an early fall and had to count two scores under 9.8.
Halfway through the meet, the GymDogs found themselves tied for second place. With a bye during the third rotation, they braced for some timely words from Yoculan.
“I talked to them about the need to have zero regrets,” Yoculan related at her post-meet press conference. “And not go out there focusing on winning a national championship, because it would be like an elusive butterfly. It just wouldn’t happen. They needed to be reminded at halftime. Thank goodness for byes! It came at just the right time for us tonight.”
Properly focused, the GymDogs went out with a dozen routines nothing short of amazing. Senior Abby Stack led off the floor exercise with a 9.9, tying her career best. Hilary Mauro, Taylor, and Cassidy McComb all followed with 9.9s. Tolnay upped the ante with a 9.925, and Kupets anchored with a 9.95. Their 49.575 total was the highest event score of the meet.
Until the GymDogs moved to the vault. Their 49.625 total featured a career-best 9.925 by Ding, a 9.95 by Tolnay, and another 10 by Kupets. And Newby rebounded with a 9.875.
With that, the GymDogs sat out the final rotation knowing they had posted a score that neither Alabama nor Utah could catch.
“We came into this competition saying ‘no regrets’ and leave it all out on the floor,” Yoculan said after the meet. “Halfway through in the locker room we were like, ‘What was that?’ That didn’t look like we were laying it all out there, so we came back.
“I don’t know how to put it into words…”
Taylor tried. “We are all really, really excited because it was something special that we all really wanted to do, to send Suzanne back to remember with. It wasn’t just a championship. It was an amazing championship. It couldn’t get any better than this.
“God bless Suzanne. It was beautiful. We are so honored that we got to be part of this last year for her.”
The perfect culmination of a 26-year career. If anyone deserved a perfect finish, it was Yoculan. It was her vision that guided the program to this point.
She began coaching in the musty old women’s physical education building, near Snelling Hall, drawing about 200 fans to each meet.
Now, the GymDogs practice in the new 16,000 square foot Suzanne Yoculan Gymnastics Center adjacent to Stegeman Coliseum, and they fill up the Coliseum for every meet. Men’s basketball should draw so well.
It didn’t just happen. Yoculan promoted tirelessly. She answered every letter, responded with thanks for every column sent to her. In October of 1995, she paid a visit to the Rotary Club of Forsyth County in promotion of her team.
She would also take a homesick little girl under her wing at her gymnastics camp, take her out to lunch, and take her to visit her home, where she got to see all the GymDogs warm-up jackets from over the years. That little girl arrived back home wearing one of Jennifer Carbonne’s warm-up jackets. It remains one of my daughter’s prized possessions.
That’s the type of person Suzanne Yoculan is, and that’s why this ending is so perfect.
There’s only one problem. Yoculan will forever be linked to the numbers five and ten.
There was nothing dime store about Suzanne Yoculan. She was first class all the way.