Alabama vs. Auburn
When: 8 p.m., Friday
Records: Alabama 0-0, Auburn 0-1
TV: SEC Network
The Alabama gymnastics team will see a fair amount of adversity in the 2020 season and will have to overcome obstacles.
Alabama will experience failure and perhaps some injuries, but will be also be ’reborn’ into a more competitive team, better equipped to handle the pressure down the road.
It’s pretty much an exercise in existentialism.
That’s the theme anyway.
You have probably seen references to ’Thorns and Transformation’ on the Alabama gymnastics team’s Twitter and Facebook accounts (@BamaGymnastics).
“Well, about four years ago it started because of a poem that was about the rose and about you’re responsible for nurturing your rose, you’re responsible for owning your rose to not lose sight of the journey of how you get there,“ Alabama gymnastics coach Dana Duckworth said. ”And so the ultimate rose is to be on the floor the final night of the national championship. It’s to win the SEC championship, but you can’t focus on the road. You got to focus on climbing the vine, and overcoming every thorn because there will be obstacles. And again, you make those your strengths, instead of let them stab you to the side.“
Alabama has a big thorn to start the 2020 season with a road meet against Auburn on Friday. It doesn’t get easier with No. 1 Oklahoma the following week. The week after that is the Multiplex Challenge in Fort Worth, Texas, with Oklahoma again, as well as Georgia and No. 2-ranked Denver.
The Crimson Tide’s 2019 season ended with a third-place finish in the Michigan Regional to finish 12th overall. The Crimson Tide failed to reach the NCAA Championships for the first time since the championships began in 1982.
“I think we’re all just ready to get out there and get the ball rolling,” Alabama junior Kylie Dickson said of the season opener. “Our mentality is to just trust the process. If you get faced with adversity just overcome it and do what we do every single day in the gym and show everyone how hard this team works and how committed we are.”
Dickson competed on the uneven bars last season and is one of four juniors on the roster (Tia Kiaku, Lexi Graber, Alonza Klopfer). Three seniors will compete this season – Wynter Childers, Shea Mahoney and Maddie Desch, who was All-SEC in all-around last year.
Childers competes on bars and beam while Mahoney, All-SEC in 2019, is on vault, bars and floor exercise.
“I think the fans should be excited to see everything this team has to offer because we have a lot of exciting things happening,” Mahoney said. “All of our freshmen and underclassmen have pushed themselves further than what they even thought possible. So fans should be excited to see a lot of new faces and a lot of exciting gymnastics this season.”
The finish wasn’t the problem for Alabama in 2019. The Crimson Tide scored 197 or better in its last five meets, which included the SEC Tournament and the first and second round of the Michigan Regional.
The issue in 2019 was the start. Even though Alabama improved its score from week to week, despite a midseason setback, the 196.4 average wasn’t in line with the rest of the top teams across the country.
“It used to be that you could start slow, build your momentum and get there,” Duckworth said. “That average, what we call the national qualifying score (NQS), has become much more important now. …I feel we are going to start off strong with the type of gymnastics we are putting out there.”
The Crimson Tide has tweaked its vault routines and will continue to add to them as the season goes on, and will upgrade some of the floor exercise routines.
“We’re going to have big tumbling on floor,” Duckworth said. “Four of our six tumbling are going to be what’s called an E-pass, which is some of the most difficult gymnastics in the country. We are doing that in January, with the hope that we can make a statement.”
Five sophomore return, including Shannon Olson, an All-SEC gymnast and 2019 Pan American Games silver medalist (Team Canada) and bronze medalist (vault). Also back are Emily Gaskins, Jensie Givens, Griffin James and Sania Mitchell.
The Crimson Tide boasts a talented freshman class that is part of its plan for a strong start. Makarri Doggette competes in the all-around and will see action against Auburn. Ella Burgess and Luisa Blanco are also all-around competitors and will contribute immediately. Macy Orosco and Mati Waligora are also freshmen competing.
“They knew that coming in that we needed to count on them,” Duckworth said. “They will be stepping in right from the get-go.”
Reach Edwin Stanton at 205-722-0226, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter, @edwinstantonu2