ATHENS — It was a red-letter weekend for the Georgia Bulldogs.
While most of the attention and focus this weekend was on coach Kirby Smart’s tremendously successful #93KDay initiative for the G-Day spring football game, two other Georgia sports secured actual SEC championships over the weekend in men’s tennis and golf. The Bulldogs also had a pretty decent weekend in baseball and gymnastics.
Here’s a rundown:
1. Yet another SEC title for men’s tennis
The perennial success of Georgia’s men’s tennis team gets taken for granted a lot, but it’s truly remarkable when you try to wrap your head around the accomplishments of that program. Coach Manuel Diaz’s squad secured the Bulldogs’ 39th SEC title this weekend, when they bounced Ole Miss 4-0 Sunday in Oxford, Miss. Thirty-nine, mind you.
The victory gave the No. 6-ranked Bulldogs (18-3, 12-0 SEC ) a perfect SEC record for the first time since 2007 — and the 15th time overall in program history — and secured the regular-season championship. Georgia will try to grow that number to 40 this coming weekend when they enter the SEC Tournament in Columbia, S.C., as the No. 1 seed.
“I can’t say enough about what this team has accomplished all year long,” Diaz said. “To not only win this league, but to finish unbeaten, is a very difficult thing to do. Our guys persevered all season, and I look forward to seeing what we can accomplish in the SEC Tournament. I especially cannot say enough about Austin Smith and how valuable he has been to this team. I don’t know of anyone more impactful than Austin.”
2. Men’s golf snags another SEC trophy
Georgia’s men’s golf program has put up some pretty gaudy numbers, too, when it comes to SEC championships, and those guys added to their total over the weekend.
With senior medalist Lee McCoy leading the way, the No. 4-ranked Golf Dogs secured the program’s 29th league title on Sunday in the SEC championships on the Seaside Course at Sea Island Golf Club. The Bulldogs fired a final-round 5-over 285 to wind up at 13-over 853 and hold on for a 3-shot win over Texas A&M (856), Florida (861), Arkansas (861) and LSU (864). It was Georgia’s eighth SEC title under coach Chris Haack and the program’s first since 2010.
“It’s a feeling that never gets old, that’s for sure,” Haack said, via georgiadogs.com. “You never know if you’ll get another one, so I’m so happy that these boys get to experience this. It’s especially nice to see Sepp (Straka) and Lee close out their senior years with an SEC title. … This definitely gives us a boost of confidence heading into the NCAAs that we can maybe go all the way this time.”
McCoy made a 25-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole on Sunday that helped pace the Bulldogs to close with 1-under 69 finish and 3-under 207 overall. It was the seventh win of his collegiate career — one shy of the school record — and made McCoy the 16th medalist in Georgia history (the first since Russell Henley in 2010).
3. Baseball holds its own
Just when you’re ready to stick a fork in the Georgia baseball team and say it’s done for the season, the Bulldogs step up and show they have a lot of fight left in them. A week after deplorable showing in getting swept by Texas A&M, the Diamond Dogs first knocked off No. 14 Georgia Tech on Tuesday, then took two of three to win their SEC series with No. 2-ranked South Carolina (29-8, 11-4 SEC) this weekend.
Georgia (20-17 overall) improved to 6-9 in the SEC (and 6-8 against ranked teams) when Daniel Nichols and Stephen Wrenn hit back-to-back home runs in the eighth inning to give the Bulldogs a 5-3 come-from behind victory on Sunday at Foley Field. It marked the highest ranked series win since 2001, when the Bulldogs knocked off No. 2 LSU two games to one.
Georgia continues a school-record 22-game stretch against ranked opponents by going to Clemson (24-12) on Tuesday, and then it heads to No. 2 Florida (33-5, 11-4 SEC) for an SEC series starting Thursday.
4. Gym Dogs back in business
For a program that once won five national championships in a row and 10 overall, a sixth-place finish at the NCAA championships might seem small potatoes. But after the struggle that the Gym Dogs had much of this past season, their run back into the “Super Six” this past weekend was impressive, not to mention individual titles scored by seniors Brandie Jay (vault) and Brittany Rogers (bars).
It was a much-needed step in the right direction for coach Danna Durante, who has yet to score a title of any sort with the Gym Dogs. But Georgia has to do better. While it was understandably celebrating a sixth-place finish in this particular year, UGA did finish behind SEC sisters LSU, Florida and Alabama. So there is still much work to be done to get the Gym Dogs back where they belong in the hierarchy of college gymnastics.
5. Football is still king
All of those great accomplishments this weekend were dwarfed by Georgia’s history-making G-Day spring football game. There is no way to verify exactly how many people actually entered Sanford Stadium, but judging from all the people sitting in the aisles and crowding the stairwells and concourses in the standing-room-only areas, it’s probably safe to say there were more people in that facility than at any other time in history.
As I wrote this weekend, none of that will help Smart win any more games in 2016. But with all the recruits visiting over the weekend and tuning in via ESPNU, it’s bound to help them in the future. In the meantime, some of Georgia’s flaws were revealed in the process.
The Bulldogs didn’t play particularly well on the defensive side of the ball. And their current issues in the running game were exposed. But, all-in-all, it was an extremely successful day for Georgia football, as it was for UGA athletics as a whole.