Gymnastics begins preparation for 36th consecutive national championship appearance

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Gymnastics begins preparation for 36th consecutive national championship appearance

Stephen Alvarez

Stephen Alvarez

Stephen Alvarez

Ben Stansell

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Behind a season-high 49.35 on vault and a team score of 197.225, Alabama gymnastics claimed an NCAA-best 32nd Regional Title last Friday night in Coleman Coliseum.

With the victory, the Crimson Tide also punched its ticket to the National Championships on April 20 and 21 for the 36th consecutive season.

On the first day of the National Championships, 12 teams will vie to be one of the six teams, commonly known as the “super six,” that gets a shot to compete for a title on the second day of competition. The 12 teams that compete on the first day will be divided into two sessions, one in the afternoon and one in the night. Alabama is slated to square-off against LSU, Nebraska, Georgia, UCLA and Arkansas at 1 p.m. The top three teams will advance.

When Alabama begins its quest for a seventh national title, it will be doing so in a familiar setting: Chaifetz Arena in St. Louis, where the Crimson Tide placed second in the SEC Championships less than a month ago.

“The familiarity is quite nice, to be able to just kind of have the lay of the land,” coach Dana Duckworth said. “At the same time, I think that it’s a new day, a new start, everyone starts at zero, which makes it that much more exciting.”

The venue will not be the only aspect of the National Championships that Alabama will be accustomed to. This year, a record six SEC teams (Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Florida, Arkansas) advanced past the regional stage; as a result, Alabama has already faced half of the remaining field in the regular season. The Crimson Tide handled business against the Bulldogs, Wildcats and Razorbacks, but lost to the Tigers and Gators.

“I’m biased,” Duckworth said. “I think that the SEC conference is the best gymnastics conference in the country. I think that the preparation we have because every single week you have to show up, every single week you have to bring your best because there is no weak link in the SEC.”

To senior Kiana Winston, the record number of conference foes that advanced to the SEC Championships will only heighten an atmosphere that she has become used to over the past several years.

“I know that at super six last year, and all of the years I’ve been there, someone always starts an SEC chant because there’s so many there,” Winston said. “Having six there will be so great because the SEC chant will be going and we’ll be pumped.”

In order for Alabama to claim a spot in the super six for the 24th time in the past 26 years, it will take the ‘it’ performance that the team has been chasing this entire season. Although the Crimson Tide appeared on the cusp of it at regionals, Duckworth expects even more at the NCAA Championships.

“I’m as excited about this postseason as I am for any postseason because they’re a great team, they’re going to be so ready,” Duckworth said. “I hope they have the absolute best night of their season on day one and turn around and repeat that performance on day two, god willing.”