AUBURN — Friday afternoon, well before Alabama’s gymnastics meet against Auburn started, the Crimson Tide passed around a letter from senior Mackenzie Brannan. Just because she was fresh out of surgery from a career-ending injury didn’t mean she wasn’t going to give some form a pre-meet speech.

She couldn’t be there in person, but she could in spirit.

“It was like she challenged the team,” Alabama coach Dana Duckworth said. “Instead of having an attitude of ‘why me,’ how about ‘try me.’ I love that. She wanted these ladies to go out there with no fear or anxiety. Complete determination. Go all in.”

That’s exactly what Alabama did. It easily defeated Auburn’s 195.4 with a season-high 197.3 in Auburn Arena.

The Crimson Tide kicked off the meet on the uneven bars, tying its season high with a 49.4. It then moved to vault, where it posted its second-best score of the season — a 49.275 — even though only one landing stuck. Then, despite having to account for two scores in the 9.7 range, Alabama managed a 49.225 on the floor exercise, which it has only scored higher than one other time this season.

“Even though it wasn’t perfect,” Duckworth said, “it was pretty darn close.”

Especially at the end.

Alabama finished off on the balance beam with its strongest performance through eight meets, a 49.4. There was a fall from redshirt sophomore Peyton Ernst, who was third in the lineup, but her 9.2 was dropped. Freshman Lexi Graber and senior Kiana Winston followed up with two 9.9s. Senior Nickie Guerrero did the same in the anchor spot, solidifying the Crimson Tide’s victory.

Only Guerrero didn’t celebrate like she usually does after a beam routine. Normally, Guerrero explodes, throwing up both arms and smiling from ear to ear.

This time, she finished and her face pulled tight. Her teeth didn’t shine. Her fists didn’t pump.

She was thinking about Brannan.

“For someone that really wants to be out here and can’t, it’s hard,” Guerrero said. “I just wanted to do it for her.”

Guerrero didn’t look at Brannan’s letter before the meet. She knew she’d get too emotional. So, she went on to score a season-high 9.95 on vault, a career-high on floor and the 9.9 on beam without having looked at a word.

Really, she tried not to think about any of it until beam anyway. That’s where she feels most comfortable and the movements come naturally. She was allowed to let the emotion take over.

When her feet planted, it all hit at once, just as it will again when she reads Brannan’s letter on the trip home.

“I’m probably going to tear up more,” Guerrero said. “I don’t cry. I’m not a person that likes crying either, but it’s going to be hard knowing she wasn’t here with us.

“But, at the same time, she was.”

Uneven Bars
Ari Guerra, 9.85
Wynter Childers, 9.875
Shea Mahoney, 9.9
Lexi Graber, 9.85
Kylie Dickson, 9.775
Kiana Winston, 9.925
Shea Mahoney, 9.825
Abby Armbrecht, 9.775
Ari Guerra, 9.85
Kiana Winston, 9.8
Lexi Graber, 9.85
Nickie Guerrero, 9.95
Floor exercise
Ari Guerra, 9.775
Shea Mahoney, 9.7
Abby Armbrecht, 9.9
Maddie Desch, 9.6
Kiana Winston, 9.925
Nickie Guerrero, 9.925
Balance Beam
Wynter Childers, 9.875
Abby Armbrecht, 9.825
Peyton Ernst, 9.2
Lexi Graber, 9.9
Kiana Winston, 9.9
Nickie Guerrero, 9.9