Immediately after the first semifinal of the 2018 NCAA Championships, Alabama gymnastics coach Dana Duckworth told her team she’s sorry. For just the third time since the format was installed 27 years ago, the Crimson Tide failed to advance to the Super Six, finishing its season eighth in the country. The sting was real.
A 196.625 put Alabama fifth in its session and ended its season one meet too early.
“When you look at the overall body of work that Alabama gymnastics really achieved this year and how much these ladies overcame this year, I’m just very proud of the face we were at the national championship,” Duckworth said. “There’s not a lot to be negative about in a sense that these ladies gave everything they had. It just wasn’t enough, and sometimes it’s not enough.”
Alabama’s average score was a 196.835. It posted a season-high 197.525 midway through and a season-low 195.675 in the opener. If averages determined final rankings, UA would have ended up sixth.
But they didn’t.
The last time the Crimson Tide didn’t compete in Super Six was in 2007, when Alabama placed ninth. Before that was 1997.
“As coach (Nick) Saban always says, ‘Don’t waste a loss,’” Duckworth said. “If you don’t learn from it, then you will. I feel very strongly that we’re going to use this as the best fuel and fire to be completely proactive this summer in our preparation, and I think all the returners feel the same way.”
There will be 11 back next season. Kylie Dickson, Lexi Graber, Bailie Key and Alonza Klopfer will be sophomores. Wynter Childers, Maddie Desch, Shea Mahoney and Peyton Ernst (redshirt) will make up the juniors. And the new senior class will be Abby Armbrecht, Angelina Giancroce and Ari Guerra.
Alabama says goodbye to Mackenzie Brannan, Nickie Guerrero, Jennie Loeb and Kiana Winston.
It also bids farewell to Bryan Raschilla, who was the team’s associate head coach but did not have his contract renewed. There will eventually be a new face added to the coaching staff.
“What happens next is important,” Duckworth said. “Being able to rebuild and create this new identity for this next team is what’s important. That to me as a coach is what you focus on, the renewal of what’s next.”
Not so fast. Next year’s schedule isn’t out yet. To get an idea of when that will be released, though, last season’s home slate was announced in October.
Something else worth keeping in mind: This past season was the last year of the Super Six format. From now on – or until the NCAA changes it again – there will only be four teams competing on the final night. If that had been the case this year, Alabama’s eighth-place finish would have put it last overall at the NCAA Championships since only eight teams will advance from regionals to semifinals to begin with.
“I look back, and we were really good,” Duckworth said. “We weren’t great. That was the difference.”