Alabama’s mentality in gymnastics has always been to peak at the end of the season, when it matters most, and this year was no exception.
Once the Crimson Tide broke 197, it stayed above that mark, posting five consecutive 197-plus scores to close out its 2019 run. That series featured a season-high 197.35 at the Southeastern Conference championships to finish third overall out of the afternoon session and then back-to-back 197.225s at the two-day NCAA Ann Arbor Regional in Michigan. The first was enough to win and advance. The second fell short by a spot and booted Alabama from the championship bracket, ultimately leaving the Crimson Tide to finish 12th in the nation.
“Everything is about our performance,” UA coach Dana Duckworth said. “Did we get stronger? Did we start to work on the details even more so in competition that started to pay off? And we did. So I do not think the ranking reflects how good of a team we really are.”
But it did prove things need to change.
After seeing the new postseason format play out, Duckworth realized teams have to come out strong and stay strong. Timing is no longer everything. Survival of the fittest is.
“We needed to do a better job at the beginning of the season,” Duckworth said. “We didn’t get the scores we needed to be able to put ourselves in the rankings to have things unfold the way they did.”
The Crimson Tide managed a 194.75 in the season opener, its lowest score since 2006. The team quickly bounced back and put up a 196.175 the next week, which was better but not great. It then had a 196.9 that set the bar until the 10th meet when Alabama finally topped it a 197.1.
Putting the change in perspective: The Crimson Tide averaged a 196.386 in its first seven meets and a 197.093 in its last seven meets.
“I emphatically feel had our team been at the national championship, we would have peaked and had our best meet of the season,” Duckworth said. “We were ready mentally. We were ready physically. And you wonder what could have happened had we been there.”
Twelfth is the lowest Alabama has ever finished. It came in 11th after the NCAA championships’ debut in 1982 but has otherwise been in the top 10.
Duckworth will sit down with UA athletics director Greg Byrne sometime soon just to rehash what happened this season and review what she aspires to happen next season.
“The good thing is he understood the change in the format meant it was going to be really challenging, and anybody that knows our sports looking from the outside-in understands that we did a really great job,” Duckworth said. “At Alabama, of course, it’s all about the national championships. … The big thing that I tell the girls is that nothing has changed in our goal. Being on the floor the final night of the national championship always will be the goal.”
And that preparation begins now.
“Reset,” Duckworth said. “2020 here we come.”
Other 2019 notes
• Alabama is one of just two programs (Utah) to finish in the top 12 nationally every year since the sport began in 1982.
• Senior Abby Armbrecht competed at this year’s NCAA championships as an individual event specialist, scored a 9.9125 on the floor exercise and became the Crimson Tide’s 74th gymnast to earn All-America honors since Julie Garrett first did in 1982.
• Alabama had an SEC-best six gymnasts receive All-SEC honors: Armbrecht, fellow senior Ariana Guerra, juniors Shea Mahoney and Maddie Desch, sophomore Lexi Graber and freshman Shallon Olsen.
• Alabama placed third at this year’s SEC championships, maintaining its status as the only school to never finish outside the top four at the conference title meet.
• Alabama closed out the regular season 10-5-0, marking its 28th season with at least 10 victories.
• Alabama led the SEC and was second nationally in gymnastics attendance this year, averaging 11,864 fans per meet.
Reach Terrin Waack at email@example.com or at 205-722-0229.