Going West: Gymnastics enters quad meet optimistic after strong start


CW / Hannah Saad

Katie Windham | @ktwindham5, Staff Reporter

Even though Alabama gymnastics started the season with two losses, there is plenty of optimism surrounding the program as it heads west for a quad meet on Saturday. 

“I think that this team has [an] unbelievable opportunity to be awesome, to be great, to be one of the best teams in the country,” coach Dana Duckworth said. “And that’s what’s been such a benefit in competing against high-level teams right from the very beginning.”

After a loss on the road against Auburn, the team bounced back on Friday with its highest opening home score in team history, but still fell to No. 1 Oklahoma 198.250-197.400. 

In just the second meet of the season, the Crimson Tide scored higher than it did in any meet last season. The 197.400 is the highest score by an SEC team this season and has been exceeded only by Oklahoma and UCLA.

Alabama will face the Sooners again this week, along with No. 4 Denver and No. 18 Georgia, at the Metroplex Challenge in Fort Worth, Texas.

Freshman Luisa Blanco technically should still be enjoying her senior year of high school in her hometown of Dallas, but she graduated early so she could join the Crimson Tide in January to compete this season. She said the team has supported her since her very first practice.

“They welcomed me with open arms,” Blanco said. “I remember I was crying the first practice, I was so dead. And they’re like, ‘Don’t worry. You got this.’ It didn’t matter who it was, they just all had my back. And then day by day, it’s just gotten easier and easier.”

With less than a month of practice in Tuscaloosa under her belt, Blanco is already a major contributor to the team. In both meets this season, Blanco, along with fellow early enrollee Ella Burgess, competed on vault and beam. Blanco led the team on beam both weeks, scoring a 9.900 against Auburn and a 9.925 against Oklahoma. 

Duckworth said she wants to get the freshmen even more involved in the lineups going forward.

“Ella and Luisa still are only really less than 14 practices in, and I’m still tapping into their incredible athleticism,” Duckworth said. “I’m looking forward to [seeing], can we get Luisa added to the bars lineup, can we get Ella added to the floor lineup and Luisa added to the floor lineup? Because it’s going to be exciting.”

Fellow freshman Makarri Doggette was named SEC Specialist of the Week after producing three scores of 9.900 or above against Oklahoma: a 9.950 on bars, a 9.925 on floor and a 9.900 on beam. Sophomore Griffin James has also broken into the floor lineup with scores of 9.825 and 9.850 after dealing with injuries last season. She said the depth on this team pushes her to be better.

“We have so many great people, and the people behind you make you want to get better so you can contribute the best score that you can possible,” James said. 

The team is excited about competing in a quad meet, where four teams rotate among the four events and compete simultaneously. The meet is held on podium, a bouncier type of setting that is also used at SECs and nationals.

Duckworth said there are always great crowds in Texas, and Blanco is expecting a large cheering section of friends, family and former teammates in Fort Worth this weekend.

“I’m excited about the crowd, excited about being on podium, excited for this team to be able to build off what we did last week and just stay in the moment,” Duckworth said.