Only a week after a meltdown on the balance beam cost the Alabama gymnastics team its first road meet of the season, the team responded in a big way. The Crimson Tide defeated the top-ranked Florida Gators 197.4 to 196.8 Friday in front of a crowd of 13,778 in Coleman Coliseum.
The falls that plagued the Crimson Tide on balance beam were nowhere to be found this week, and the team rode solid scores on vault and floor to beat the defending national champions, leading after each rotation of the night.
Coach Dana Duckworth had one word to describe her team’s performance after posting its best total of the season.
“Awesome,” Duckworth said. “So proud of these ladies. They worked so hard this week. They worked on mental toughness, we worked on our discipline, our focus, our energy. I’m so proud of having over 13,700 screaming fans. It makes a difference, the energy they bring.”
With Alabama ranked second nationally on the vault, sophomore Keely McNeer set the night in motion on the apparatus in the first rotation of the meet. The team posted a 49.5 the rotation, led by senior Kaitlyn Clark who posted a 9.975, her career best.
The team came in with a 49.225 on bars.
The largest question of the night was how the Crimson Tide would perform on balance beam after last weekend. The team suffered three falls last week, counting two, but did not drop a routine this week. Kayla Williams started off strong for Alabama with a 9.85 while Katie Bailey led the way in the rotation with a 9.90.
Duckworth said she expected her team to regain its identity on the beam this week, leaving last week in the past as a reminder to continue to work hard.
“That was a lot better than last week,” she said. “This is the kind of beam team we are. Last week, we’re going to look back at the season and hope that it was a good reminder, keeps you honest. You’ve got to stay focused and hopefully continue to get better. We were good on beam – we weren’t great. We can be even better.”
Sophomore all-around athlete Katie Bailey said the team’s struggles last weekend were rooted in more than just skill, and the group has since worked to increase its energy across the board.
“After last weekend, more than focus on skills on beam, we just focused on our overall energy within the team,” she said. “I noticed a big difference on every event, not just beam, but it definitely helps having 17 people behind you screaming for you and supporting you. It’s nice to know they’re behind us.”
Junior Lauren Beers made her first appearance in the all-around competition on the way to the victory, something she said she had been looking forward to throughout her career.
“It’s been my goal three years now since I’ve been here, so it was great to finally get up there for the first time,” she said. “There’s always ways to improve, but I’m happy and it was a good start.”
As a whole, Duckworth said the night was not all about a win but was an opportunity for the team to put their talent on display against the reigning national champions, although it’s still important that her team stay focused on itself.
“We will face great teams all season,” Duckworth said. “This being early in the season, was a great opportunity to see where are we compared to other people, not that we’re comparing ourselves, but to get an idea. I think that having a team who has won a national championship come to your arena just gives you the opportunity to show what you have to offer, what your team can do, no matter who that is.”