Alabama gymnastics still searching for ‘lights out’ performance ahead of SEC Championships

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Alabama gymnastics still searching for ‘lights out’ performance ahead of SEC Championships

Stephen Alvarez

Stephen Alvarez

Stephen Alvarez

Ben Stansell

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Throughout the course of this season, Alabama’s gymnastics team has been on the cusp of a breakthrough performance.

The Crimson Tide’s gymnasts has posted high schools in certain events. The only problem is that those performances have never all occurred during the same meet.

Against Kentucky in mid-February, the Crimson Tide posted season highs on vault (49.3) and uneven bars (49.55). Facing Auburn a week later, Alabama notched a season-best 49.4 on balance beam. Last Friday against Oklahoma, Alabama tallied its best score of the year on floor, a 49.575.

With each new season high, the anticipation for the Crimson Tide to put it all together has built, and built and built.

Now, set to compete in the SEC Championships on Saturday, Alabama is hoping to finally deliver what senior Kiana Winston calls a “lights out” performance.

“I’m very excited and proud for really how far this team has come,” coach Dana Duckworth said. “but I’m more pumped for the fact that we have not had that meet where all four events have been on all four cylinders and we have done the absolute best we can. I know it’s coming.”

The key to unlocking that magical performance has little to do with the technical side of gymnastics, according to Winston. Instead, Winston believes that she and her teammates have to focus on letting go of the pressure and competing without inhibition.

“In order to put all the events together, I think that everyone on the team, including the people on the sidelines cheering, that we just need to go out there and be free,” Winston said. “When we’re free and having fun, that’s when we do best.”

Forgetting about the pressures that come with college gymnastics may prove to be a difficult task for Alabama during the SEC Championships. The competition is well-known for its rowdy fans and unmatched intensity.

Even though it was three years ago, senior Nickie Guerrero vividly remembers how the fanatic environment of the SEC Championships rattled her during a beam performance. Although it is hard to imagine now, considering she was an All-American on the event last season, Guerrero’s score was low enough that it did not count toward Alabama’s total.

That very same environment, once terrifying to Guerrero, now excites her.

“It’s really fast, it’s really loud and it’s really nerve-racking, but it’s the most fun meet of the entire year,” Guerrero said. “It beats nationals by far.”

In order to give her team a taste of what they can expect on Saturday, Duckworth blasted music and crowd noise during practice this week.

“In practice today, we will have it dead quiet and then we’re going to blast the music. Then we’re going to take it right back down and then we’re going to get the crowd music going,” Duckworth said. “You try the very best you can to create that environment of so much going on that you have to become ultra-focused.”

If Alabama is able tune out the pressure and distractions that accompany the SEC Championships, the Crimson Tide have an opportunity finally execute that “lights out” performance on Saturday.

Alabama will be competing in the night session of the SEC Championships, which are scheduled to start at 6 p.m. CT. 

No. 2 ranked LSU, No 5. ranked Florida and No. 9 Kentucky will also be competing in the night session.