Aja Sims went from not being in the University of Alabama gymnastics team’s floor exercise lineup at the NCAA Morgantown Regional to dominating the event. The senior posted a 9.95 on the apparatus to win the Crimson Tide’s sole individual title.
Not only did she not know she was going to compete, Sims also had no idea she ended up with the highest score. There were six teams present, plus specialists.
“That was really cool,” Sims said Monday. “It was just really exciting I got to do that for my team and put that out there one more time.”
Floor is Sims’ favorite event and the one she has made a name for herself on this season with her modern, hip-hop music.
Originally Sims was a back-up because, per UA coach Dana Duckworth, she has been struggling with her middle tumbling pass. Junior Nickie Gerrero was supposed to go fifth, but Sims said her teammate had an issue with her heel so she filled in.
“You want to talk about someone that took advantage of an opportunity, hello, she won floor,” Duckworth said.
After scoring a season-low 48.8 on the vault at regionals, there was nothing Alabama could do but wait as the other teams finished their last events. The Crimson Tide ended on a bye, and its final score of 196.625 was set.
Alabama had to be one of the top two teams to qualify for the NCAA Championships. It placed second behind Michigan’s 197.35 to solidify its 35th-consecutive berth.
“I didn’t know,” Duckworth said. “I’m not going to sugarcoat it. The fact that we get to compete for a national championship is a blessing, and you can’t take it for granted.”
Before Monday’s practice, Mary Lillian Sanders surprised fellow senior Mackenzie Valentin with a white rose and an invitation. In that moment, Sanders, all dressed up in a black and white dress and wedges, was more than just a teammate. She was the one to tap Valentin for the 29th order of XXXI, the premier women’s honorary at UA.