By Anna Rose Johnson

One of the top gymnasts on the J.O. scene and winner of the 2016 Nastia Liukin Cup, Georgia’s Rachael Lukacs has made the transition to NCAA, where she helped her team to their highest opening meet score in a dozen years! Named the SEC Freshman of the Week after her first-ever NCAA meet, Lukacs is looking forward to the rest of her freshman season—and beyond.

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Inside: Tell us about the start of your NCAA career!
Rachael: Walking out was so cool because we had all the [support]…[the] crowd was there, cheering us on, it was a whole different atmosphere than J.O, being able to have my team at my back.

Inside: How does it feel to be named SEC Freshman of the Week?
Rachael: It’s absolutely crazy, I can’t believe it! (laughs) I remember seeing some of my former teammates being that, and I was just so excited and so proud for them, and seeing my name with SEC, I was like, “Oh my gosh! This is crazy!” It’s a dream come true. I couldn’t have done it without my teammates, my coaches, and my family.

Inside: How is your training going?
Rachael: It’s going good. Working on those details we can fix to make our routines just a little bit better is going really good.

Inside: What is your favorite apparatus?
Rachael: My favorite would have to be vault and floor, because they’re more of the powerful events, and I’m more powerful than elegant and graceful, so I get to show my strength and my power.

Inside: So far, how is college gymnastics different than club gymnastics? What are some takeaways and insights from the beginning of your freshman year?
Rachael: What’s different is that college is more based in the team and being part of a family, where J.O. definitely was having a team and stuff—but it was more [focused on] individuals… but here it’s great knowing that you’re all going for the same thing, supporting each other, and getting to have more sisters! (laughs)

Inside: You had such an amazing Level 10 career, from winning the Nastia Cup to J.O.s—what were some of your favorite competition memories through the years?
Rachael: I’d probably have to say one of my favorites that I always think back on was the Nastia Cup in 2016, when it came down to vault, and I think I was sixth place, and I knew if I wanted – I needed to do the best vault that I could, and I think my first vault wasn’t the best, but my coach Tony Gehman was like, “You got this, just trust yourself, you know how to do this.” So I went, did my vault, and it was one of the best vaults I’ve ever done—probably you can tell in the video, my mouth is just like, “Oh my gosh!” It was so exciting.

Inside: What are some of your goals for this season?
Rachael: Definitely we as a team…just [having] that factor of supporting each other and knowing that y’all have each other’s back, and cleaning up every tiny details, [because] that all adds up at the end. [And] pushing the team to have that confidence and have the heart of a family.

Inside: What are some of the reasons that you chose Georgia?
Rachael: The first time I fell in love with Georgia was when I met one of the coaches when I was in fourth grade at a meet, and I got to try on…an NCAA championship ring, and I was just in awe looking at that on my finger and said, “Wow, that could be me someday with my team,” and I knew instantly, “I want to be a Georgia GymDog my whole life,” and when that opportunity came, I said “I have to take it,” because I knew this was where I needed to be be, when I stepped on campus it just felt like home and I felt like I belonged here.

Inside: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
Rachael: As a team, we are starting off strong and we want to continue to make our fans proud in the GymDog nation, and it’s just great to be here, and I’m so proud of everyone, how we’re sticking together as one team, and we’ll do whatever it takes to be our best.

Photo courtesy of UGA Sports Communications

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Anna Rose Johnson writes about women’s artistic and rhythmic gymnastics. She loves Whippets, brownies, and full-twisting double layouts. Her writing portfolio can be viewed at: https://annarosejohnson.contently.com