Gymnastics ready to begin season of transformation


CW / Hannah Saad

Katie Windham, @ktwindham5, Staff Reporter

A quick glance at any form of Alabama gymnastics’ social media reveals an abundance of roses and the hashtag #TAT2020.

After failing to reach the national championship in 2019 under the new NCAA gymnastics championship format, “Thorns and Transformations” is the theme for this team in 2020.

“Thorns and transformation truly means how you respond to adversity, and it’s been pretty impressive to see how this team responds to it,” senior Shea Mahoney said.

The team will quickly learn how they respond to adversity by opening the season on the road against rival Auburn on Friday night at 8 p.m. CT.

The Crimson Tide won its opening meet last season, but its score of 194.750 was the lowest score from an Alabama team in more than a decade.

Alabama coach Dana Duckworth said the new format hasn’t changed her mindset as a coach because the goal is still the same: to compete for a national championship.

To reach the national championship this season, Duckworth knows the importance of her team getting off to a solid start.

“If you want to be there [the national finals], you better be undeniable, but the undeniability has to start in January,” Duckworth said. “Where it used to be you could start slow and kind of build the momentum to get there.”

Even though the overall score determines who wins or loses on a given night, Duckworth said that her team isn’t performing to get a certain score.

“You’re going out there to do the absolute best performance you absolutely can,” Duckworth said. “What’s appreciative of this team is they have the talent to be able to do that, and I feel we’re going to start off strong with the type of assets we’re putting out there.”

Some of those assets include two 10.0 start value vaults expected to compete Friday night according to Duckworth, and they will continue to add in more as the season continues.

Four of the six gymnasts in the floor lineup have level E passes in their routine, the most difficult level of skills in collegiate gymnastics.

Fans can expect to see returners who competed in the past again this season, like 2019 SEC balance beam champion junior Lexi Graber and sophomore Olympian Shallon Olsen among others. Along with the three seniors — Wynter Childers, Maddie Desch and Mahoney — there are a few new faces.

“All of our freshmen have worked so hard and every single upperclassman has pushed themselves further than what they even thought possible,” Mahoney said. “So I think fans should be excited to see so many new faces and a lot of excitement this season.”

The freshman class is highlighted by Makarri Doggette, who is a four-time USA Junior Olympic National Team member. Duckworth expects Doggette to compete in three events against Auburn.

Two other freshmen, Luisa Blanco and Ella Burgess, just arrived a few weeks ago to begin practicing with the team, but will compete for the Crimson Tide on beam and vault right away.

“They knew that coming in we needed to count on them,” Duckworth said. “They’re going to be stepping in right from the get-go.”

Time will tell if Alabama’s season ends up smelling like roses, but the team is excited to start the path of transformation in Auburn on Friday night.

“I think this is the most excited and prepared a team has been heading into the season,” Mahoney said. “… We’ve been waiting and waiting so we’re really pumped and happy that it’s finally here.”