Pack some earplugs. Alabama gymnastics is heading to the Southeastern Conference Championships, where there’s never a moment of silence. All four events happen simultaneously.
Relentless would be the best word to describe the atmosphere.
“It’s just one of those things you have to go through the experience to realize how crazy it is,” Alabama senior Nickie Guerrero said. “We can do as much in the gym to help – scream, play loud music, crowd noise in the background – but when it gets down to it, it’s a whole other level. You just to anticipate it.”
No. 6 Alabama in SEC Championships
When: Saturday at 6 p.m.
Where: Chaifetz Arena in St. Louis
Record: Alabama 7-4, 6-2 SEC
TV: ESPN2 (Session II)
No. 6 Alabama competes in Saturday’s evening session at 6 p.m. at the Chaifetz Arena in St. Louis, along with No. 2 LSU, No. 5 Florida and No. 9 Kentucky.
During the regular season, Alabma only lost two conference meets. It fell at LSU and Florida.
“The thing is, I know everybody thinks LSU and Florida are the only two in the game,” UA coach Dana Duckworth said. “That’s perfectly fine, to be the underdog, but let’s just go all in.”
The Crimson Tide’s season high is a 197.525, which is 0.36 higher than its regional qualifying score that determines its national ranking.
“There’s no reason physically at all we are not capable of doing this,” Duckworth said. “It is completely mental. The reality is we just have to compete better, and they can.”
Earlier in the day, Arkansas, Auburn, Georgia and Missouri make up the 2 p.m. session. The highest score out of the two meets will dictate the winner.
Kiana Winston is the reigning SEC champion on the balance beam. The senior also won an uneven bars title in 2016. Mackenzie Brannan, also a senior but out with a career-ending injury, won the SEC vault title that same year.
“A lot of things flew over my head when I was a freshman and so when we won, I was like, ‘What did we do?’” Winston said. “They were like, ‘We won an SEC championship.’”
That was the last time Alabama claimed first in the conference, and it was Duckworth’s first year as head coach.
Since then, the Crimson Tide has finished second and, most recently, third. LSU took home the title last year, with Florida coming in second above Alabama.
SEC had its first championship in 1981. The Crimson Tide has won nine titles – third-most in the conference – and has never placed lower than fourth.
This meet also officially marks the start of postseason.
“You’re going to get hyped,” Winston said. “You’re going to feel like you can’t breath, but at the same time, smile. Look at a teammate. Take a deep breath.”
Alabama will start on beam, where it’s ranked sixth nationally, and ends on bars, its highest-ranked event (fifth). UA is also sixth on vault and 11th on the floor exercise.
LSU’s final performer on floor will close out competition. A new SEC champ will then be crowned.
“It’s really fast, it’s really loud, and it’s really nerve-wracking,” Guerrero said. “But it’s the most fun meet of the entire year. It beats nationals by far.”