The Alabama gymnastics team physically reloaded the bus just to mentally unload.
After a long weekend, it was finally time to relax around 9:30 p.m. Saturday. The full face of makeup was wiped off. The tightly pinned-up hair was let loose. The persona of a performer was replaced with that of a regular college kid.
“That was fun,” UA sophomore Lexi Graber said.
The Crimson Tide’s work in New Orleans was complete, placing third as the No. 5 seed at the SEC Championships with a season-high 197.35. All that separated the team from Tuscaloosa was a 4-hour drive.
Each gymnast had her own row of two seats, giving everyone the option to sprawl out with personal pillows and blankets brought from home. Some, like Graber and fellow sophomore Alonza Klopfer, chose to pair up instead, tossing their backpacks into the overhead bin.
There was a lot of chatter at first, adrenaline from the final awards ceremony in the Smoothie King Center still fresh and new.
“We definitely did what we came here to do,” said Graber, holding her first-place flowers for the 9.95 she scored on balance beam. “I’m super proud of us.”
But within 10 to 15 minutes, things quieted down. The TV switched from HGTV to “A Star Is Born.” The movie covered up the pitter-patter of typing on a laptop, headphones turned too loud and whispered conversations. The only people who were truly making noise sat in the back anyway.
Ariana Guerra and Abby Armbrecht huddled over an iPhone on FaceTime with Angelina Giancroce, who didn’t make the trip in order to rest from a minor physical setback.
“I made sure she feels loved because I hate not having her on this trip,” Guerra said. “It’s really weird, especially for us.”
They’re the Crimson Tide’s three seniors. They’ve traveled together for four years.
Experiences like this are still rather new for Alabama freshman Shallon Olsen, who competed as an elite prior to UA and trained with a more age-diverse group.
“If they’re like 8 or 10 years old, you can’t really say like, ‘Hey, can you help me do my hair?’” Olsen said. “Because they probably don’t know how to braid or something.
“It’s just nice knowing you have older girls you can look up to, and they treat you like you’re their sister. That’s just like really cool and really heartwarming.”
Alabama’s 17 gymnasts, when they’re under the bright lights, they’re performers. Dressed up. Big smiles. Constantly judged.
But when the lights are off, they’re just 17 college kids. Unfiltered. Genuine. Carefree.
“These are the memories,” Guerra said, “you’re going to remember for a lifetime.”
The bus parked at Coleman Coliseum around 1:30 a.m. Sunday. Everyone unloaded physically just to reload mentally. Their time off will be short-lived.
Alabama learns its regional fate Monday.
“I think we’re hitting our stride and starting to peak at the right time,” Armbrecht said. “I think we’re a postseason team.”
Said Guerra: “We always have been.”
Reach Terrin Waack at email@example.com or at 205-722-0229.