Alabama gymnastics seniors embracing emotions of final home meet

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Alabama gymnastics seniors embracing emotions of final home meet

Stephen Alvarez

Stephen Alvarez

Stephen Alvarez

Kiana Winston is one of four seniors that will be honored on Friday.

Ben Stansell

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Kiana Winston does not consider herself emotional, but she could not stop herself from tearing up during her graduation ceremony last December. The stirring moment did not come when she walked across the stage to receive her diploma for a bachelor’s degree in psychology, however.

The swelling of tears came when she noticed that her fellow seniors on the gymnastics team had come to watch her graduate.

“I wasn’t expecting them to be there like the whole time and they literally were there,” Winston said. “I saw them and I like, I don’t want to tear up, but I was tearing up when I noticed that they were just there and I love them so freaking much.”

It was not that Winston’s teammates had failed to inform her they were coming. Supporting her at graduation was always the plan, according to Nickie Guerrero.

“I don’t know why she thinks we wouldn’t show up,” Guerrero said. “She is crazy. We told her we were going to show up, but Kiana is one of those people that- bless her soul. She doesn’t expect great things for her that she definitely deserves.”

Although whether or not Winston, who is still taking classes to prepare for graduate school, anticipated her fellow seniors to be there is still up for debate, there is no question that they were there, together, like they have been since they first stepped Alabama’s campus four years ago.

An enlarged picture of Alabama’s four seniors– Winston, Guerrero, Mackenzie Brannan and Jennie Loeb– sits in the office of coach Dana Duckworth.

Except in the picture, they are not seniors. Taken during their first year at Alabama, the photo shows them as a group of freshman who had yet to experience the life lessons that accompany four years of collegiate gymnastics.

“[The picture] was on Instagram and they blew up the picture and I was looking at it this morning,” Duckworth said. “They came here as young girls. They are leaving here as young women. Each one of them, their personal growth, their personal development, their incredible young women that will all go on to be very successful in life.”

While every senior class that has graduated under Duckworth has been special, this year’s class will always be distinguished in her mind for being the first group that came in after she was announced as Alabama’s head coach.

The girls committed to Alabama while former coach Sarah Patterson was still at the helm. Once Patterson decided to step down after 36 successful seasons, and Duckworth was announced as her successor, the girls stayed faithful to the Crimson Tide.

“This particular class is very near and dear to my heart because they had a choice,” Duckworth said. “They didn’t have to stay at Alabama. They had not gotten here yet. Not a single one of them waivered when the coaching change took place because they were coming here to be a part of a tradition, a part of a culture that has maintained and gotten even stronger.”

Alabama’s senior class has been instrumental in building on the tradition that originally brought them to Tuscaloosa.

During their collegiate careers, this senior class has been a part of an SEC Championship (2015), two first place NCAA Regional finishes (2015,2016) and three top-six NCAA Championship finishes.

As individuals, Brannan, Guerrero and Winston have been honored as All-Americans for what they’ve accomplished on the mat. Along with Jennie Loeb, they have been recognized for their work in the classroom as well, having been named Scholastic All-Americans.

The accomplishments Alabama’s seniors have notched will remain in the record books, but the leadership they have demonstrated this year has the Crimson Tide in position to make more history.

“These women in this senior position right now have done something that very successful teams have do,” Duckworth said. “One: they hold each other accountable. I think that that self-policing is something that coach always wants to see. I think that we did a really strong job in the very beginning of this year of setting clear expectations and strong communication. They are carrying that on.”

Alabama’s seniors will be honored before the Crimson Tide face off against top-ranked Oklahoma in Coleman Coliseum on Friday night at 7:30 p.m.The Crimson Tide currently ranked sixth in the country and is poised for another post season run.