Competing on balance beam is second nature to Alabama’s Nickie Guerrero.
When she got up on the four-inch-wide structure during the NCAA Tuscaloosa Regional, she just let her body do the work. She was at home — on the apparatus, inside Coleman Coliseum.
Guerrero knew regardless of what she scored, Alabama was going to win its 32nd regional title, an NCAA best.
“I started to cheer, and then I realized the crowd was so loud,” Guerrero said. “That’s one of the loudest I’ve heard it all year, and it just kind of hit me. Like I’ve had such a great opportunity here and they treated me so well. I couldn’t have asked for a better year — my senior year.”
It’s not over.
Because Alabama won, it advances to the 2018 NCAA Championships on April 20-21 at the Chaifetz Arena in St. Louis. The trip marks UA’s 36th-consectuive appearance. Saturday’s final results were Alabama (197.225), Georgia (196.5), Illinois (196.425), Michigan (196.35), Missouri (196.1) and Central Michigan (195.825) in order.
“I’m going to start with a Roll Tide,” Alabama coach Dana Duckworth said. “I’m so proud of this team. I’m so proud of just the consistency and the trust. They start off on floor just with a great type of poise that we wanted, and they needed to.”
Talk about a turn of events. Normally whenever the Crimson Tide competes in Coleman Coliseum, it ends on the floor exercise. But since Alabama was hosting, by default that’s where it began.
Freshman Lexi Graber had a team-high 9.875. No one scored a 9.9 or higher during the first rotation.
That changed when Alabama went to vault. Another change: Freshman Kylie Dickson was anchoring instead of Guerrero. Dickson hadn’t competed vault since February, but Duckworth wanted to get her experience before a possible national championship.
No harm anyway. Dickson got a 9.75, and Alabama scored a season-high 49.35 there. Graber also won the vault regional title with a 9.95.
Then, Alabama went into the locker room for its bye.
“We just stayed in our Bama bubble and really used the momentum that we had to channel it toward a different kind of energy,” senior Kiana Winston said. “For vault and floor, it’s more kind of fire. But for bars and beam, it’s more kind of calm and steady.”
The Crimson Tide knocked out a 49.4 bars lineup that featured three 9.9s in a row from Graber, Dickson, and Winston. It then went to beam and put up a 49.275 that Winston’s 9.925 highlighted. Her score also earned her first-place honors.
Once Guerrero hit her landing, Alabama was done. Its final rotation was a bye.
“Congratulations to the University of Georgia,” Duckworth said. “Congratulations to the University of Illinois because it’s hard to sit on the bye and watch that thing walk away. That’s going to be painful for that team.”
Illinois was also on that last bye. It was in second — until Georgia’s very last performer. Sabrina Vega needed a 9.825 to push UGA ahead. She got a 9.875.
Alabama and Georgia advance.
“We talked a lot about being really grateful for everything and entitled to nothing,” Duckworth said. “We had to earn this opportunity.”
Abby Armbrecht, 9.8
Ari Guerra, 9.8
Maddie Desch, 9.85
Lexi Graber, 9.875
Kiana Winston, 9.825
Nickie Guerrero, 9.85
Abby Armbrecht, 9.775
Shea Mahoney, 9.825
Ari Guerra, 9.9
Lexi Graber, 9.95
Nickie Guerrero, 9.9
Kylie Dickson, 9.75
Ari Guerra, 9.85
Angelina Giancroce, 9.8
Lexi Graber, 9.9
Kylie Dickson, 9.9
Kiana Winston, 9.9
Wynter Childers, 9.85
Abby Armbrecht, 9.8
Wynter Childers, 9.8
Peyton Ernst, 9.825
Lexi Graber, 9.85
Kiana Winston, 9.925
Nickie Guerrero, 9.875