Rewind for a second.
Alonza Klopfer laid out Alabama gymnastics’ game plan a month before the season even started.
“One at a time,” the freshman said in December. “Think about where we’re starting and then keep going from there — not looking all the way up at the hill. Just look at where you’re stepping next, and that’ll get us where we want to be later in the season.”
Fast-forward: Later is now, and Alabama is nationally ranked higher than it has been all season at sixth. It has three regular-season meets left before postseason, starting with North Carolina on Friday.
As for where the Crimson Tide thought it would be at this point, expectations changed.
“I’ll say this, at the very beginning of the year, our vision was to come out stronger than we’ve ever come out,” UA coach Dana Duckworth said, “but a series of events took place.”
She can list them all, except, long story short, there were multiple unexpected injuries and illnesses.
“What’s exciting is the girls are getting healthier, we’re getting a little more depth, and they’re continuing to rise to the occasion,” Duckworth said. “If we can continue the course that we’re on — add the upgrades with confidence — I think that peaking at the end is what it’s all about.”
The ultimate peak continues to be a question mark. It’s currently penciled in as a season-high 197.3, which Alabama posted last weekend at Auburn, and could be higher if the Crimson Tide hits all four events in one meet rather than separately.
So far, Alabama’s best marks are a 49.55 on the uneven bars, a 49.4 on both the floor exercise and the balance beam and then a 49.3 on the vault.
“I have total confidence this team can go as far as they want to go,” Duckworth said. “I have total confidence they have the skill, the mind and the emotional maturity to be able to be one of the best teams in the country. I just hope they believe that. Because you can preach it all day long as a coach, but when you start to see it happen — and that’s what’s happening — it’s really fun to watch.”
The team does believe it.
“Just to know that we still haven’t had that ‘it’ performance yet is very awesome,” junior Ari Guerra said. “… Because once we put it all together, it’s just going to be the best moment ever.”
The time to do it would be now, building off that big win at Auburn and returning home to Coleman Coliseum. Alabama hasn’t competed against a non-conference opponent since losing its season opener on the road against Michigan.
UNC is 35th in the nation with a 195.225 Regional Qualifying Score. The Tar Heels’ season high is a 196.05.
UA’s RQS is a 196.85.
“I just believe that every team that comes to Coleman Coliseum typically brings their best,” Duckworth said, “because they’re going against one of the best.”
North Carolina at No. 6 Alabama
When: 7:30 p.m.
Where: Coleman Coliseum
Records: Alabama 5-3; UNC 6-5
TV: SEC Network+