ST. LOUIS — A curse of decades past has broken.
The last time the University of Alabama gymnastics team didn’t advance to the NCAA Championships’ Super Six was 10 years ago. The time before that dates back another 10 years. It looked like a trend was forming, as UA entered Friday’s semifinals eighth in the nation, but its 197.6 during the evening session proved otherwise.
“We accomplished one of our major goals: to be on the floor the final night of the national championship with the opportunity to compete for it,” UA coach Dana Duckworth said.
So now, for the 23rd time in 25 years, the Crimson Tide will compete in the Super Six, which starts Saturday at 8 p.m. No other team has made that many appearances in NCAA history.
“That’s unbelievable,” Duckworth said. “It’s a testament to the true grit and fire of this team. They have passion, and they had trust tonight. We’re going to be able to build off this.”
In the end, Alabama finished third in its field, while LSU (198.275) and Florida (197.8125) were first and second, respectively.
Earlier in the day, UCLA (197.5) and Utah (197.05) also guaranteed themselves another day. So did Oklahoma with a 197.725, which should be no surprise since it has been on top of the rankings all season.
When it came down to it, the Crimson Tide didn’t have an ideal start on the floor exercise. Sophomore Ari Guerra stepped out of bounds with her first tumbling pass, which brought an automatic 0.1 deduction that resulted in a season-low 9.7. Six other gymnasts also crossed the line throughout the day. The podium floor added an extra bounce.
Alabama’s floor rotation still ended with an exclamation point, as junior Kiana Winston earned a 9.9375, and things continued smoothly despite the initial hiccup.
Baby hops or minor step backs were as bad as it got for UA’s vault landings. Seniors Katie Bailey and Keely McNeer led the way with a set of 9.8875s. Bailey is the reigning NCAA vault champion. Brannan debuted her Yurchenko 1.5 after not vaulted in the last four meets to post a season-high.
“She learned that vault in a couple of days,” Duckworth said. “First time to ever compete that vault – at the national championship – and gets us the highest score.”
On the uneven bars, McNeer continued her solid performance with a season-high 9.9. Winston received the same two routines later, but it was Bailey who topped all Crimson Tide members with a 9.95, which ties her season-high and earned her an NCAA individual title.
Senior Aja Sims led UA on the balance beam, its final event, with a 9.925. All Alabama could do then was sit and watch the final rotation unfold. Its final score was set.
But there wasn’t much to worry about. That is until the Crimson Tide returns Saturday to Chaifetz Arena.
“The agenda is we put it all out there, we don’t hold back, we go for gusto, and we have no regrets at the end of the night,” Duckworth said.