Purple. It’s the first thing that comes to mind when Alabama senior gymnast Kiana Winston thinks about LSU. That’s understandable.
Then Winston’s mind wanders to the abundance of Tigers fans and how loud they can in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, which actually turns her thoughts right back to the Crimson Tide.
No. 9 Alabama at No. 1 LSU
When: Friday at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Maravich Center in Baton Rouge, La.
Records: Alabama 1-1; LSU 2-0
TV: SEC Network
“To know that both our programs, they’re that: They have the fan bases. They have the support system,” Winston said. “We just know that we’re two of the best gyms in the country going after something that bigger than ourselves.”
They’re about to go against each other, too.
Alabama competes in Baton Rouge, on Friday and has heard Maravich Center is already sold out. That means more than 13,000 people should be in attendance.
“I think that is a true testament to how hard LSU has worked at marketing their program and marketing the fact that they were second in the country for the first time in 40 years,” Alabama coach Dana Duckworth said. “So I think that there’s a lot of good things happening over in Baton Rouge for their program.”
She’s right, for the most part.
LSU closed out last season second, but that actually tied the school’s best finish. It had the same ending after the 2016 season, which really was the Tigers’ first time as runner-up.
Alabama finished last year sixth.
Except, like Theodore Roosevelt used to say and Duckworth constantly preaches now: Comparison is the thief of joy.
“I think that we are a legacy of champions,” Duckworth said. “We are a legacy of tradition and excellence of being there at the top, and we just have to own what Alabama does well and not focus on anybody else.”
Alabama knows LSU is currently the first-ranked team in the nation. It averages a 197.2 after two meets. Meanwhile, Alabama is ninth with a 196.1 average after the same amount of competition.
There’s no avoiding the facts, but there is ignoring them.
“I like to train like I’m the worst and compete like I’m the best,” Alabama junior Abby Armbrecht said. “So come in practice every day thinking we’re the underdogs … then go in there and compete like we’re the No. 1 team.”
It doesn’t matter what arena the team is in either.
Coleman Coliseum held just over 12,000 fans in UA’s home opener. Last season, Alabama was nationally ranked No. 2 in gymnastics attendance leaders, averaging 12,152. There were six other SEC teams in the top 10, including LSU at No. 3.
Evidently, competing in front of large crowds is something Alabama is used to and LSU also has some very loyal fans.
“If anything, it’s just in one ear and out the other,” Winston said. “It sounds to me more like a home crowd than it does a rivalry crowd.”
Or, the haters can be the best motivators.
“It’s kind of nice when you know people are rooting against you,” Armbrecht said. “It’s like, ‘Oh, I’m going to go out there and prove you wrong.’”