Gymnastics opens home schedule against defending champion Oklahoma


CW / Hannah Saad

Katie Windham, @ktwindham5, Staff Reporter

After a tough test to begin the season on the road with a loss to Auburn, Alabama gymnastics is excited to be back home to compete against top-ranked Oklahoma, the defending national champion, on Friday night.

“There’s nothing more exciting and electric than competing in Coleman Coliseum,” Alabama coach Dana Duckworth said. “… You walk into that arena, and you have the student section rallying behind you. You have fans that have been fans over 30 and 40 years with our program… There is an [indescribable] feeling.”

Even though the Crimson Tide will be competing in the friendly confines of Coleman Coliseum, the level of competition does not get any easier.

The Sooners have scored above 197 in both of their meets so far this season, including a 197.675 against Arizona State last week. That is more than 1.5 points higher than the 196.025 Alabama scored in its only meet of 2020.

Oklahoma is led by one of the best gymnasts in the country, senior Maggie Nichols. She has 16 career perfect 10.0 scores and was the 2018 and 2019 individual all-around NCAA champion.

Alabama junior Lexi Graber said that the team likes getting to face top teams like Oklahoma.

“I think on this team we love competition,” Graber said. “So we look forward to having such a big opponent. And I think we all know that we’re capable of meeting the expectation, and I think we’ve worked really hard. So we’re excited to show off and show the world that we are a force to be reckoned with.”

Graber said her uncharacteristic fall off the beam against Auburn was frustrating, but she knows she can’t carry it with her throughout this season.

“I’ve just been working on accepting it and making sure it never happens again,” Graber said. “And so that’s what I’m focused on is just to be there for my team and put up that performance next week for my team.”

Luisa Blanco, Ella Burgess and Makarri Doggette all made their Crimson Tide debuts as freshmen last week. Duckworth said she hopes that another freshman, Mati Waligora, will also be able to join the lineups against Oklahoma after she has dealt with some injuries.

According to Duckworth, Waligora had the same tightrope procedure on her ankle that Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa underwent.

Doggette, who led Alabama with a 9.875 on bars last week and also competed on beam and floor, said she has been looking forward to competing in Coleman Coliseum since she was visiting as a recruit.

“I was always like, ‘Oh, I want that to be me,’ and now it finally is,” Doggette said. “It’s a dream come true, so I’m really excited.”

Friday night is also Capes and Crowns Night, with all fans encouraged to wear capes, crowns, tiaras and any other royal gear. Doors open at 6 p.m. CT. All home gymnastics meets are free admission for students.