The University of Alabama gymnastics team is at the NCAA Championships, but there is still a chance the Crimson Tide won’t get the opportunity to compete for the title.
Because, in reality, there are two meets left.
“You have only one that counts right now, only one that matters right now,” UA coach Dana Duckworth said. “That is the first night of the national championship. It — semifinals, prelims, whatever you want to call it — is all that matters.”
A part of the evening session, Alabama needs to place in the top three in order to advance to the Super Six. It’ll go up against Florida, Georgia, LSU, Michigan and Nebraska in the evening session, while Utah, UCLA, Washington, Denver, Oklahoma and Oregon State compile the afternoon session.
There are more teams at this meet than any other the Crimson Tide has been at this season, or at least there are until half of them don’t qualify.
“It’s definitely a competitive, fun fire,” senior Mackenzie Brannan said. “You don’t really talk to anybody or any other teams. We just focus on Bama and what we need to do.”
The “Bama bubble,” as the Crimson Tide team calls it, is in full force the entire weekend. It’s important each gymnast keeps her emotions in check as the intensity increases, especially when it’s time to perform and the adrenaline kicks in.
Before her turn, regardless of whether it’s at a meet or in practice, sophomore Abby Armbrecht has a set of words she repeats in her head every time.
“No bigger. No better. Just do what you know how to do,” Armbrecht tells herself.
That’s the mentality the rest of the team tries to take, too. Duckworth preaches it every day.
Senior Aja Sims adds in her own personal twist. She has learned to trust her training, so she also adds in a little incentive. She reminds herself who she is doing this for. She repeats: for her, for him, for us.
“That’s our why,” Sims said. “Kind of helps me just bring it all in. It’s just gymnastics. I’m doing it for everyone so that we can just bring home, hopefully, a great national title.”
But the Crimson Tide can’t get ahead of itself.
“We want a chance to compete in Super Sixes,” Brannan said, “but we definitely have to take it one step at a time.”
Ever since the Super Six format was formed 24 years ago, the Crimson Tide has advanced to the final night an NCAA-best 22 times.
Over the course of 34 years, Alabama has never finished with a double-digit ranking. Its worst outcome was ninth place in 1997 and 2007. Those are also the only two times UA did not make it to the Super Six.
“The back of my mind is: What has Alabama gymnastics been known for and been able to really accomplish year after year?” Duckworth said. “It’s have the best performance on the last two nights of the national championship.”
NCAA CHAMPIONSHIPS – SEMIFINALS
Alabama in session II
When: Friday at 7 p.m.
Where: Chaifetz Arena in St. Louis
TV: ESPNU (moves to ESPN at 8 p.m.)