By Greg Uptain
Special to The Tuscaloosa News
ST. LOUIS — For only the third time in the 26 years the current format has existed, the Alabama gymnastics team will not take part in the Super Six team final at the NCAA Championships.
The Crimson Tide scored a 196.625 in Friday’s first semifinal session at Chaifetz Arena to finish fifth among the session’s six teams. Only the top three advanced to Saturday’s final.
“We were good. We needed to be great,” Alabama coach Dana Duckworth said. “We knew that the competition for this session was going to be intense. The fact that we are not in the Super Six hurts. I feel that we will be able to take this and truly use it to develop for next year.”
One area of concern Friday came on the balance beam. The Crimson Tide’s score of 49.075 was their lowest of the four events.
“The balance beam was definitely a difference maker. We were a little timid on the event. We are a 49.4 balance beam team and we did not do that tonight. That we have to own. We did not execute the way we are capable of executing,” Duckworth said. “On bars, we were OK (49.163). But, I think when we went to beam, we opened up a door for someone else and I wish looking back that we wouldn’t have done that.”
Alabama did not have an individual gymnast finish among the top 10 in any of the four events. The Crimson Tide’s best individual finish was a 12th-place showing by junior Abby Armbrecht on the floor exercise. Freshman Lexi Graber was the only Alabama gymnast to vie for the all-around title. She finished 13th.
“We just weren’t outstanding,” Graber said. “We went out and did everything we could, even though it didn’t end the way we wanted. We wanted it for our seniors. It just didn’t work out that way.”
UCLA had the top team score in the first session with a 197.563. LSU (197.475) and Nebraska (197.013) also advanced. But, Alabama also finished behind Georgia (196.688), a team it beat three times this season, including twice in the last four weeks.
The Crimson Tide had a bye on the day’s final rotation and had to watch those four teams pass them by.
“Ending on a bye was very hard to just sit back and watch it kind of unfold,” junior Ariana Guerra said. “In those last moments, all of us realized it was our last time to be together with this team. It’s a little emotional.”
And the end result left Duckworth searching for answers.
“I’m racking my brain right now as a coach saying, ‘What else can I do? What else can we do? How can we take this from here?’” she said. “I’m sad our seniors don’t get to be on the floor tomorrow night. That’s the goal every year. But, we will use this to make us better.”