Change is scary, but it can be good thing.
When former Florida gymnast Peyton Ernst transferred to Alabama, trading in her blue and orange leotards for crimson and white apparel was easy. Finding her place on the team was trickier.
“She was really quiet in the beginning because she came in the middle of our year last year, so right before season,” UA senior Nickie Guerrero said. “We already had relationships with each other, and it was hard for her to come in.”
No. 9 Alabama at No. 5 Florida
When: Friday at 6 p.m. CT
Where: Gainesville, Fla.
Records: Alabama 3-2, 3-1 SEC; Florida 4-1, 2-1 SEC
TV: SEC Network
There were a few familiar faces on the team, which helped. Prior to college, Ernst trained at Texas Dreams Gymnastics, the same gym as senior Kiana Winston, junior Ari Guerra and freshman Bailie Key. A safe net was in place.
Still, the transition was far from over. NCAA rules prohibited Ernst from competing for an entire season.
“Physically, sometimes with gymnastics, it can actually be beneficial because it may give certain areas of your body a chance to rest,” sophomore Maddie Desch said. “… At the same time, I think it really builds energy inside because you want to be out there. It’s hard to wait, but it can be good and bad.”
The bad part is the waiting.
The good part the resting.
Before transferring, Ernst underwent shoulder surgery. Alabama coach Dana Duckworth said Ernst would have had to sit out anyway. The year off was a blessing in disguise. Ernst got to properly heal with no rush.
On Jan. 12, Ernst made her Alabama debut in, of all places, Coleman Coliseum. She scored a 9.825 on the balance beam.
“Her smile was so cute and so big,” Desch said. “I think it was just really exciting for her because she came here because she wanted to compete. She wanted to be part of a team still. “
As a Gator, Ernst was a part of UF’s beam lineup in all but one meet and produced a season-high 9.925. She now does that event for the Crimson Tide, competing in three of UA’s five meets so far this season. Her high currently is a 9.875.
“She’s a beautiful beam worker,” Duckworth said. “She will not compete on any other events this year and maybe never in her career. I just don’t know because of her shoulders, so we manage it the very best we can.
“What’s nice is Peyton’s happy. She loves Alabama, she loves being on this team, she loves her teammates, and we love her.”
The words used to describe Ernst include: sweet, calm, kind, amazing and supportive.
But then Guerrero throws a curveball.
“I’ve gotten to know her, and she’s such a little savage,” Guerrero said. “It’s so funny. You’d never expect something like that from a sweet soul like her.”
There’s that sweet again.
Ernst found her footing at Alabama. She’ll return to Florida this weekend for the first time since leaving, but the ones who now know her best will be alongside her.
The ones she’s comfortable enough around to show her hidden savagery.
“You just got to know her,” Guerrero said. “Some stuff that comes out of her mouth is just like, ‘Did Peyton say that?’”