ST. LOUIS — The University of Alabama gymnastics team dug itself a hole during the first two rotations of the Super Six that was too deep to climb out.
In the end, the Crimson Tide placed sixth at the NCAA Championships, scoring a 196. Alabama could have had a season-best performance, and it wouldn’t have mattered. Oklahoma dominated, posting a 198.3875 to reclaim its championship title. LSU finished second with a 197.7375. Florida was third with a 197.7. UCLA (197.2625) and Utah (196.5875) were fourth and fifth, respectively.
UA now has 33 top-six finishes and is the only program to do so in each of the last 10 years.
“Team 43 has been quite a journey,” UA coach Dana Duckworth said. “I am very proud of how far we came. We are a top-six team in the country.”
On the uneven bars, junior Mackenzie Brannan was the Crimson Tide’s first competitor. She earned a 9.825, which was lower than her semifinals score, and then so did freshman Shea Mahoney. Senior Keely McNeer followed with a 9.9 that ended up being the highlight – and peak – of UA’s bar rotation. It went downhill quickly after that.
Senior Amanda Jetter botched a release and landed on the mat. She got back up to complete her routine for a season-low 9.325. Then, even though she held on, junior Kiana Winston had a shaky routine that garnered a 9.5875. Senior Katie Bailey, who was named the NCAA uneven bars champion the night before, scored 0.2 lower than her season-high for a season-low 9.75.
The Crimson Tide could have managed with its 48.8875 bars score, but everything else would have had to gone smoothly, maybe even flawlessly. That didn’t happen, thanks to the beam.
Even with junior Nickie Guerrero’s 9.9 in the anchor spot, Alabama was bound to end up with a season-low beam score, and it did with a 48.625. McNeer saved herself after two close calls but ultimately ended up falling off the beam for a 9.0375. Originally, McNeer was also supposed to compete during semifinals, but she was switched out before the rotation.
It didn’t stop there like a team normally hopes. Freshman Maddie Desch also fell to end up with a season-low 9.225 that hurt Alabama.
“Of course I’m disappointed for them,” Duckworth said. “Many of the mistakes were some of the seniors’ last routines and you hate that for them, but at the same time, I shared with them that gymnastics is what we do, it does not define who we are, and I love them no matter what.”
During UA’s first bye, Duckworth told the gymnasts it’s not how they start, it’s how they finish.
There weren’t any notable mishaps during Alabama’s floor rotation, and as the lineup progressed, the performances kept improving. It started with a 9.8 from Jetter, who wasn’t in the initial lineup, and finished with a 9.925 from Winston.
On vault, freshman Wynter Childers initiated things, as the only UA gymnast to leadoff on more than one event, and got a 9.825. The rest of the scores remained around that range and topped off at 9.85s from sophomore Abby Armbrecht, Bailey and Guerrero. McNeer finalized Alabama’s final score with a 9.7875.
“You have to look at all the good things,” Duckworth said. “We are here. We gave our heart and soul.”
Mackenzie Brannan: 9.8125
Shea Mahoney: 9.825
Keely McNeer: 9.9
Amanda Jetter: 9.325
Kiana Winston: 9.5875
Katie Bailey: 9.75
Wynter Childers: 9.8125
Aja Sims: 9.85
Keely McNeer: 9.0375
Maddie Desch: 9.225
Kiana Winston: 9.8375
Nickie Guerrero: 9.9
Amanda Jetter: 9.8
Wynter Childers: 9.825
Ari Guerra: 9.8375
Aja Sims: 9.875
Kiana Winston: 9.925
Wynter Childers: 9.825
Abby Armbrecht: 9.85
Kiana Winston: 9.775
Katie Bailey: 9.85
Nickie Guerrero: 9.85
Keely McNeer: 9.7875