Taking the Floor: Duckworth prepares for first meet after Patterson retirement

Taking the Floor: Duckworth prepares for first meet after Patterson retirement

Dana Duckworth, front, will make her debut as the new head coach of the Alabama gymnastics team on Friday when the No. 4 Crimson Tide hosts No. 21 Arizona. CW | Pete Pajor

Kayla Montgomery

For the first time in 36 seasons, the No. 4 Alabama gymnastics team will take the floor with a new face at the helm of the program. In the first meet of the season against No. 21 Arizona at 7 p.m. Friday, Dana Duckworth will make her debut as the new head coach of the program.

Though new to the position of head coach, Duckworth is no stranger to the Alabama program, having already spent nearly 20 years with Crimson Tide gymnastics. She spent four as a gymnast, nine as a volunteer coach, and six as a full-time assistant coach before taking the reins of the program from head coach Sarah Patterson, who led the team to six national championship titles, with the help of her husband David.

“I miss Sarah and David,” Duckworth said. “I also realize that between Bryan [Raschilla, associate head coach] and I with 40 years of experience together, their legacy lives within us. It lives within all these ladies that they touched and all the people before that. I’m just so honored and excited. So much of what we do and how we do it is similar to how it’s always been done, because for me, it’s all I know. It’s excellence.”

Sophomore Keely McNeer said though much has remained the same, Duckworth brings a new air to the program that finished last season with its 32nd consecutive national championship appearance.

“As far as our base core values and standards, nothing has changed. We’re just carrying over the tradition and the Alabama legacy the way it always has been,” McNeer said. “We have a new personality in Dana. She’s a little more outspoken and outgoing, but it’s been a positive change so far. It’s a little bit of a modern twist.”

Duckworth said that from a coach’s standpoint, the biggest change for her has been the new importance of teaching the girls life lessons, rather than just athletic skills. One such lesson is a mantra that has followed her since her promotion.

“Life is a fulltime interview. Every time you’re put into a situation, how you respond to that situation determines the outcome,” she said. “The only person responsible for that is you. That’s a lesson to learn when you start to put the pieces together of what it means to be a part of this legacy.”

Duckworth said that she and her team are ready to trade the practice facility for the floor of Coleman in front of their fans to begin the first page of a new chapter of the program and continue the Alabama legacy.

“We have trained and practiced and prepared and put the ladies under pressure in a practice environment,” she said. “Until you have that crowd and those judges and the people and the lineup and the pressure and all those things at the same time, it’s really just an unknown until you get to that point.”

Senior Kayla Williams, who was named a 2014 team captain despite missing the season due to injury, said the team is currently at a point where improvements cannot be made without testing preseason preparations under the lights.

“I really feel like we’re at the point where we’re not going to get too much better just practicing in the gym,” Williams said. “We’re at the point where we need to get out there under the lights, under some pressure, back around our fans and really get in the atmosphere to continue to improve.”