Gymnasts reminisce before last home meet

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Gymnasts reminisce before last home meet

CW/ Hannah Saad

CW/ Hannah Saad

CW/ Hannah Saad

CW/ Hannah Saad

James Ogletree, Sports Writer

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More than three years and 88 total home routines after making their debuts for Alabama gymnastics in early 2016, the team’s three seniors will compete in Coleman Coliseum for the final time on Friday night against Auburn.

Abby Armbrecht, Ariana Guerra and Angelina Giancroce – with just nine weeks or fewer remaining in their collegiate gymnastics careers – are still going strong. Despite the excruciating toll that years of gymnastics have taken on their bodies, they’re still working as hard as they ever have.

“They don’t want it to end,” coach Dana Duckworth said. “Now physically, their bodies hurt. Your senior year, you’re 22 years old doing this sport. It’s not easy, but they are trying to squeeze every bit of gymnastics out of the next [nine] weeks… and that is so inspiring.”

Before Guerra enrolled at Alabama, there was doubt about whether she would ever compete at the collegiate level due to four back fractures she sustained during high school. Duckworth, upon seeing Guerra in a brace walking on a treadmill, wondered how she would ever work her way into a lineup.

But there she was at the team’s first home meet of her freshman year, earning a 9.9 for her floor routine in her collegiate debut, a moment that will always be her favorite from her time at Alabama.

Two years later, she became the SEC floor exercise champion and is one of the Crimson Tide’s most indispensable gymnasts, prompting Duckworth to call her “a little bit of a miracle.”

“I always have an ache and pain,” Guerra said. “It’s knowing the difference between whether it’s muscle or if it’s just flared up or if I can’t move this day. It’s worth the push. I only have a few more meets and I’ve got to give it all I have for these last few weeks.”

She said many practices ended in tears even after she was able to compete again, but the strength and faith she developed are the reasons she’s still doing gymnastics.

Guerra tried to be strong when Giancroce ruptured her Achilles tendon before their sophomore season, but the tears flowed then too.

Giancroce knew the time, the date – even what leotard the team was wearing that day. She was primed for a breakout season before it was taken from her in an instant.

Duckworth left her visit to the Giancroce household impressed by the toughness that Robert, Angelina’s father and the patriarch of what she called a “fiery Italian family,” instilled in his three daughters.

It paid off during Giancroce’s recovery, as she learned more about who she was, how to gain more confidence in herself and how to still be a leader despite her inability to compete.

“Now that [I’m] not contributing to the team on Friday nights, how else am I going to contribute to the team?” Giancroce said. “Am I going to bring a positive attitude? Am I going to be the loudest person out there? Am I going to show people that when you’re down and out you’re not always out?”

Duckworth acknowledged that Giancroce could’ve easily decided to quit gymnastics and focus solely on her career in creative media, but the senior said that never crossed her mind.

“I’m just kind of in awe that my body’s still working,” Giancroce said. “I wasn’t sure what it was going to look like, but I don’t think I ever had any doubt that I was going to come back.”

Now Duckworth said Giancroce is doing the best gymnastics of her life. She said the same about Armbrecht, who became the first gymnast in program history to receive an undergraduate degree in three years last May. This May she will earn her master’s degree in digital and social media marketing.

On Wednesday, having already finished fielding questions from reporters, Duckworth sat down beside Armbrecht while the senior was answering questions. When Armbrecht finished, the coach jumped in to describe one of her favorite things about her.

“Abby will come up to me like, ‘I have an idea. Can we change this little part?’” Duckworth said. “The next week. ‘I have an idea.’ Always, and I will miss that because it just shows that she wants it more.”

The coach still holds onto the memories from meeting the gymnasts for the first time, visiting their homes and meeting their families. But the ones she’ll really cherish involve the mundane conversations about life and the seemingly trivial things that forge lasting bonds.

“It’s really difficult for 15 girls to get along, let’s be honest,” Giancroce said. “But this team, particularly, I feel like the chemistry is just unbelievable.

“It’s just the little moments that we spend together, whether that’s just people hanging out at your house watching movies, or it is at the hotel or it is on the bus, or even in the gym and the locker room … the amount of joy you get watching somebody else succeed – I’m going to miss that the most.”