Oh, the sweet relief.
Alabama gymnastics is about to get its first taste of podium on Friday against Auburn in the annual Elevate the Stage meet. Podium is different than what the Crimson Tide has been competing on all season. Physically, it helps.
“It’s bouncy,” UA senior Nickie Guerrero said. “It’s nice and bouncy. It doesn’t hurt as bad. But it’s just really cool, really the whole experience.”
No. 6 Alabama vs. No. 16 Auburn
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Von Braun Center in Huntsville
Records: Alabama 6-3, 5-2 SEC; Auburn 6-7, 1-5 SEC
Quite frankly, podium is also a lot nicer. The competition floor and each individual event is raised for spectators to get a better view, which ultimately changes the whole feel of equipment. Podium is also normally reserved for more important meets since most are neutral-site arenas, not on college campuses.
Friday’s meet will be at the Von Braun Center in Huntsville.
The Crimson Tide hasn’t touched podium equipment since the last season’s national championship way back in April.
“They just throw you out there and hope for the best,” Guerrero said.
She’s not kidding.
Alabama has no way of preparing for the differences prior to Huntsville, but normally teams get to practice on the equipment before any podium meet.
“It’s an adjustment,” Guerrero said. “You have to really control your landings and think about them a little bit more, so getting that experience so early is really good for us.”
This season’s Elevate meet is a lot closer to postseason. In 2017, it was in January. Now, there’s only one meet separating Elevate from the first championship: Alabama hosts Oklahoma next week and then heads to St. Louis for the SEC Championships on March 24.
Not all teams get this regular-season preparation. This will be the fourth year for Alabama and Auburn.
“It’s such an advantage for our student athletes on both teams because we get to compete on podium, which is what we’ll see in postseason at SECs and the national championship,” UA coach Dana Duckworth said. “I think that it showcases the athletes.”
The in-state rivals have already competed against each other this season. Three weeks ago, the Crimson Tide defeated the Tigers with a then-season-high 197.3 on the road.
Auburn Arena, like Coleman Coliseum, switches between a gymnastics and basketball venue. No podium.
“We already won against Auburn earlier this year and even when we were at Auburn, we weren’t perfect,” senior Kiana Winston said. “I know the night is not going to go perfect, but if we continue to strive and move forward – put our mistakes in our past – then I know we’ll have a great night.”
Since then, Alabama has increased its high score to a 197.525. It’s ranked sixth in the nation with a 197.005 Regional Qualifying Score, while Auburn is 16th with a 196.34 RQS.
But podium has the capability of making or breaking a team.
“You don’t necessarily have to try as hard,” Winston said. “You just have to trust that your body knows what it is doing and relax.
“If you get anxious on podium, then it’s game over.”