As soon as her office door shut, all Dana Duckworth could do was scream.
The University of Alabama gymnastics coach had just finished having a very pointed talk with the team. Although she knew it was for the best with the NCAA Morgantown Regional on Saturday, that didn’t make it any easier. But it was necessary.
“If you want to get to the next level, then you have to be willing to go that one notch deeper,” Duckworth said.
So, she took a deep breath and moved on.
These past two weeks, Duckworth has turned up the intensity – more so than she ever has in the past at this point in the season. While it may not have been natural for her normally upbeat and positive personality, she knew it had to be done. So did associate head coach Bryan Raschilla, who has worked alongside Duckworth for almost 18 years.
“Certain teams can be themselves. This team needs a little more leadership directed to them,” Raschilla said. “It’s been a great transition for her to step it up and say, ‘No, this is the way we’re going to do it, and if you can’t do it, then we’ll find someone else.’”
It’s not harsh. It’s what the team needs right now, which is why Raschilla encouraged Duckworth to keep it up.
The gymnasts aren’t responding in a negative way either, quite the opposite really. They love their coach for who she is, but this mood shift was a welcomed change. It has put them in their place and held them accountable.
“We keep saying we don’t want to leave anything out on the table. We really just want to give it all we got at the end,” senior Aja Sims said. “Her jumping her intensity helps us bring that last bit at the end of the season.”
Duckworth’s forward approach was actually inspired by a phrase she has heard UA softball coach Patrick Murphy use: Honesty for greatness. She has been nothing but honest, even when it’s hard.
Along with the team talk, Duckworth told each gymnast individually her expectations. Each was different, and there was no beating around the bush. A bid to the NCAA Championships is on the line.
“You have to be the top two teams to move on,” Duckworth said. “That’s all I can think about right now.”
Freshman Wynter Childers saw an immediate difference in practice. The execution was there. Teammates pushed each other. People worked to break into the lineup. No one held back.
The season isn’t over.
“I think a lot of people have counted us out as of right now, just seeing Twitter posts and everything like that,” Childers said. “I think we have a good chance.”
Alabama does hold an NCAA-best 31 regional titles.
When it comes down to it, Childers has no doubt the team that sticks its landings is going to win. That’s what the Crimson Tide has emphasized– cleaning up all of its routines, striving for perfection.
“Will it be enough? I don’t know,” Duckworth said. “But I’ll tell you what, we’re going to go down fighting.”
NCAA Morgantown Regional Championship
When: Saturday, April 1 at 3 p.m. CT
Where: WVU Coliseum in Morgantown, West Virginia
Record: Alabama 12-6, 9-5 SEC