The NCAA Gymnastics National Championships start on Friday, Apr. 15 in Fort Worth, Texas. Last year, senior gymnast Georgia Dabritz joined the long list of NCAA individual event champions at Utah when she won the uneven bars. She put on a show at the NCAA Championships, becoming the first gymnast ever to record 10.0s in the semifinal and Super Six on the uneven bars. In her career at Utah, Dabritz was a 16-time All-American (which is tied for the second-most in school history). Her 88 career wins at Utah is tied for the fourth-most in school history. She won every Pac-12 gymnastics award in her career (Freshman of the Year in 2012, Specialist of the Year in 2014, Gymnast of the Year in 2015, Scholar-Athlete of the Year in 2015, and the Tom Hansen Conference Medal in 2015). She won the AAI Award for Senior Gymnast of the Year. She was one of the NCAA Today's Top 10 student-athletes in 2015. She recorded nine 10.0s in her career (7 bars, 1 vault, 1 floor), which is tied for third-most in school history.
Dabritz started doing gymnastics at three years old in her mother's gym, Ace Gymnastics in Ipswich, Mass. "She was basically born into gymnastics," said co-head coach Tom Farden. The youngest of three children, Dabritz would compete with her older siblings, who were both gymnasts as well. She looked up to her older siblings, but at the same time, she wanted to learn any new skill they learned. Her older brother Russell was a gymnast at the University of Minnesota from 2009 to 2012. Her brother's positive experience in college gymnastics is a big part of why she wanted to be a colligate gymnast herself.
Recruiting in gymnastics is a hot topic right now with coaches beginning to recruit gymnasts at younger and younger ages. Dabritz said her recruitment really started to pick up when she was a sophomore in high school. While many of the top schools showed interest in her, Dabritz took only two visits when she was being recruited: to Utah and Alabama. On her recruiting trip to Alabama, Dabritz said, "they actually did a really good job. The girls were really nice there, but I just felt more comfortable coming to Utah."
She was recruited by former Utah head coach Greg Marsden. Dabritz's class was one of the last classes that was primarily recruited by Greg before Tom Farden came in and took over much of the recruiting duties. On Dabritz's recruitment, Megan Marsden said, "Greg is the one that found her. She was from the small club called Ace Gymnastics back East, and Greg knew a little bit about her because he watched her in the Elite world." Megan added, "[Greg] thought possibly because of her being from a school that hadn't already sent gymnasts to Alabama, Georgia or Florida, some of the schools back there that would be more the pick of an East Coast girl. He thought we might have a chance with her because she came from a small program where she was the best they've ever produced and then maybe she would consider coming this direction if we got around here on a visit so Greg talked her into coming on a visit."
Dabritz loved her visit to Utah and was sold on multiple aspects of the program and the city. "I fell in love with Utah and the coaches. I loved that the team felt like a family," said Dabritz. "Being from Massachusetts, I knew that I was going to go far, so having that family aspect was huge for me." She also loved the 15,000 fans that pack the Huntsman Center for every home meet and the mountains that surround Salt Lake City.
Farden, who was an assistant coach at the University of Arkansas when Dabritz committed to Utah, chucked when he heard Georgia was going to be a Red Rock since Utah and the University of Georgia have a heated rivalry in gymnastics. At first, Dabritz thought "Georgia would be cool to go to," but she soon realized "that would be too much." When Utah would compete against Georgia, Dabritz said that her teammates would call her nicknames like "Peaches" or "Britz" rather than her name to avoid confusion.
"Peaches" and "Britz" are not her only nicknames. Perhaps her most well known nickname is "No Grips Dabritz" which was bestowed upon her by Greg Marsden because she does not use grips on bars. Because Dabritz started gymnastics at such a young age, the grips did not fit her. She said that when she did eventually try them that she "hated them." Not wearing grips certainly worked out well for Dabritz as she was the NCAA Champion on uneven bars in 2015, the runner up in 2013, and recorded seven 10.0s on the event in her career (which is tied for the most of any Utah gymnast).
"I learned so much from Greg [Marsden], and I always say that. When people ask me who was the biggest inspiration to me, I always say Greg because who gets to do something they love for 40 years. I would love to be able to something like that." said Dabritz. "When he announced his retirement to us, we were all a little bit upset at first. What is Utah gymnastics without Greg Marsden, but then you realize that everything moves on. Tom and Megan have done a great job of moving [the program] on."
After her stellar four year career concluded at last year's NCAA Championships, Dabritz decided to go into coaching. She did not always know that is what she wanted to do. She will graduate in May with a double major in health, society and policy and health education. With her background in health, she was not completely sure what direction she wanted to take after her gymnastics career was over. She again found inspiration from Greg Marsden.
"Greg was a huge inspiration for me to want to go into coaching. I didn't know what I wanted to do when I got to Utah, and my major is in health. Last year they were looking for a girl to stay on the team for a fifth year to do some management stuff. I of course wanted to stay and do a fifth year," said Dabritz. "This year I have learned so much about coaching and gymnastics in general that has really pushed me to want toward be a coach. Not just a coach in club but a college coach so that I can create the same influence on some girls that Greg, Megan, and Tom have had on me."
"This was a deep-seated for Georgia because her parents own a gymnastics club. She grew up in the gym obviously doing gymnastics. It was the family business as well. I think that it has interested her on some level to maybe coach for her career. Through her time with us, I wasn't sure if that's really the direction she would go. As she was finishing up, she felt strongly about transitioning one more year because she had school left, and so she was going to go ahead and get a second major and help the program and get a little more of an inside view of what this is all about at Utah gymnastics more from the coaching angle," said Megan.
Dabritz has learned a lot about being a gymnastics coach in her one season on the job. She has primarily coached bars, her specialty. In addition to coaching, she has learned about some of the administrative aspects of the job and has participated in recruiting. She has also tried to get experience coaching some of the other events as well, which she also helped coach back in her club days at her mother's gym. Going from being a teammate to a coach of your former teammates can be difficult, but Dabritz has successfully made that difficult transition even though she was nervous about it at first. Megan Marsden née McCunniff knows about this well. She was an NCAA Champion gymnast at Utah (twice in the all-around in 1983 and 1984 and in vault in 1984). After the end of her gymnastics career, she became a coach at Utah, where she has been for the last 32 years, including as a head coach for the last seven years. Dabritz called her "a great example" of how to transition from an NCAA champion gymnast to a successful gymnastics coach. Dabritz watched how Megan coached on the beam and used that as an example of how to coach and will use the knowledge she gained in her coaching career moving forward.
On the transition from being a teammate to a coach, Marsden said, "I think that's one of the trickiest transitions for one of our athletes that decides to stick around because they almost in a day they go from being one of them to riding kind of a tricky line and we as an older staff appreciate her attempting to ride that line where she can relate to the athletes yet she needs to conduct herself as a staff and a coach which is slightly different than being one of the girls on the team so I think it's a tricky line and she's done a really good job with that."
Her former teammates have given her instant respect as a coach, and she has excelled in the role. Because she performed at such a high level in her career at Utah, the gymnasts on the team look up to her and frequently ask her to watch them to make sure they are performing their routines correctly. She was a leader on the team last year as a co-captain, which also helped make the transition smooth.
"She's been doing a great job. When you are an athlete at that level, that caliber, the other athletes you get instant respect from because the athletes know she's been there done that. Whereas a coach coming in, maybe a little more seasoned coach, it takes you a little bit longer," said Farden.
Being a great gymnast does not always make someone a great coach. Coaching involves more than just being able to perform a skill. Communication skills are incredibly important to be a successful coach. Being able to describe how to properly execute a skill and have the gymnasts understand that well enough to then go and perform it is not always easy. Coaches also have to identify when a gymnast is making a mistake and provide clear instructions and/or demonstrations of how to correct the issue as well. Farden, who she has primarily worked with, thinks she has been "doing a tremendous job," as a coach this year.
The fifth year student coach is a one-year position, and a gymnastics team can only have three full-time coaches. With Marsden, Farden, and Meredith Paulicivic all on staff, Dabritz will have to leave Utah if she wants a full-time assistant coaching job. Senior Breanna Hughes is slated to step into the fifth year student coaching role next year. After the season is the prime time for hiring in college gymnastics. Dabritz's Utah coaches will help her the best they can to find a job that is a good fit for her and provide her with letters of recommendation. "I'm keeping an open mind and going with the flow," said Dabritz on her search for a permanent coaching position. "It doesn't really matter to me where I go as long as I can have an impact on the team."
"Georgia is an ideal Utah gymnast. She came here and knew these were her last four years and really emptied the tank. There is no professional gymnastics. I felt like she came here and each year she got better and better and wanted to conquer some of her weaknesses and did that. As a result, for me that is the blueprint of a Utah gymnast, one who stays hungry, happy, healthy, and comes here with specific goals in mind and the determination to get those done. We couldn't be happier for her and what she did for the university and our program," said Farden.
In her five years at Utah, Dabritz has left a lasting legacy both as an NCAA Champion gymnast and also as a coach to her former teammates that will be remembered for years to come. The way she carried herself while at Utah is the blueprint for how to succeed as a Utah gymnast. While her time in Salt Lake City may be coming to an end, her contributions to Utah gymnastics will be remembered for years to come.