NCAA Ann Arbor Regional
No. 10 Alabama vs. No. 7 Michigan, No. 23 Penn State, No. 26 Ohio State
When: Friday at 1 p.m. CT
Where: Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan
Record: Alabama 15-7, 9-5 SEC
The biggest change in the new NCAA gymnastics postseason format is that regionals break down into multiple days of competition.
Alabama is already guaranteed a spot in Friday’s events at Michigan, one of the four host schools. If the Crimson Tide finishes first or second in the afternoon session, it will then perform Saturday night as well.
“Dana (Duckworth) always says, ‘How do you eat an elephant?’” UA junior Shea Mahoney said. “It’s one bite a time. So, we can’t look at it as, oh my gosh, we have to compete two days in a row. It’s we have two opportunities to make it to the national championship.”
Which Alabama has done 36 years in a row, missing only the first-ever in 1982. The Crimson Tide has also won an NCAA-best 32 regional titles.
Those numbers happened when regionals were just one day with one meet. Now, they’re really three days with four meets.
Round 1 was Thursday and a play-in between the two bottom seeds. Round 2, where the Crimson Tide comes in, is Friday and two quad meets. Round 3 is then Saturday and the final quad meet.
The Crimson Tide hosted a pair of quad meets at the start of the season and then also recently participated in the SEC championships, which featured quad meets. Alabama’s schedule, however, hasn’t seen back-to-back meets like it could this weekend.
“We’ve already trained competing twice in a row,” UA sophomore Alonza Klopfer said. “After competition, we’ve come back and done a full meet here. We’re ready for whatever.”
Two of the nine regional teams will ultimately advance to the national championship. The Crimson Tide enters as the No. 3 seed because it has the third-best ranking nationally, coming in 10th with a 196.99 National Qualifying Score.
Joining Alabama are No. 1-seed UCLA (second, 198.01), No. 2-seed Michigan (seventh, 197.32) and No. 4-seed Nebraska (14th, 196.65). The others are Penn State (23rd, 196.07), Ohio State (26th, 195.99), West Virginia (27th, 195.845), Illinois (29th, 195.805) and Central Michigan (30th, 195.735) – geographically placed.
First and foremost, Alabama must focus on Friday’s afternoon session against Michigan, Penn State and Ohio State. If the Crimson Tide doesn’t end up as a top-two team there, then it won’t even have to worry about Saturday.
“We’ve had a very clear strategy that it would be the survival of the fittest going into the regional championship,” Duckworth said. “Then, it will be the survival of the fittest going into the national championship.”
The last time Alabama won a championship title was 2012. It failed to make Super Six last season for just the third time in the 26 years the old format existed, ultimately finishing eighth in the nation.
The cutoff is even tighter this year.
Eight programs make it, and then four actually get the opportunity to compete for the trophy.
“Alabama’s goal every year is to be on the floor on the last night of the national championship with a chance to win a national title,” Mahoney said. “That is still our goal this year.”
Reach Terrin Waack at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0229.