Gymnastics rallies to beat Arkansas after mistakes, injuries


CW / Hannah Saad

Katie Windham | @ktwindham5

Things were looking bleak for Alabama gymnastics.

Right after having to count a fall on beam, sophomore Griffin James suffered an injury on her opening tumbling pass in the leadoff spot on floor and could not finish her routine.

The gymnasts rallied around their teammate and rolled off five scores of 9.850 or better to score a season-high 49.525 on floor and beat Arkansas 196.625-196.100 in Coleman Coliseum Friday night.

“I think it absolutely speaks to the character of this team that they are not going to give up and they’re going to continue to fight for one another, and that they continue to do gymnastics for something bigger than just themselves,” coach Dana Duckworth said. “I am extremely proud of how they handled that adversity and really overcame it together as a team.”

James was carried off the floor by an assistant coach, and Duckworth said James suffered an Achilles injury.

Sophomore Shallon Olsen competed on beam two spots after the first fall and had to compete immediately after James’ injury on floor. She said it was difficult to perform right after seeing her teammate, who is more like a sister, get injured.

“You just kind of have to flip the switch and change your mindset and be like, ‘OK, I got this. I gotta do this for not just Griffin but everyone else too, because we’re all feeling the exact same emotions,’” Olsen said.

Olsen tied her career high on floor with a 9.900 and was followed by three straight 9.925s from seniors Maddie Desch and Shea Mahoney and junior Lexi Graber.

After freshman Ella Burgess fell off the beam to score a 9.000 in the leadoff spot, Graber also fell in the anchor spot and recorded a 9.325. It was the second time this season she fell while the team couldn’t afford another fall, adding to the season opener against Auburn.

“I do believe in this beam team,” Duckworth said. “We will figure it out and will be amazing on the event.”

After having the two falls on beam in the third rotation, Desch pulled the team together heading into the final rotation on floor to remind them what they are capable of.

The mindset of the team heading into the final rotation was simple.

“It’s never over till it’s over,” junior Alonza Klopfer said.

Klopfer scored a 9.850 on both beam and floor for the Crimson Tide, marking her career high on floor.

Alabama started out strong with its second-best vault performance of the season, but then had the lowest scores on bars and beam since the loss to Auburn on Jan. 10.

Freshman Makarri Doggette led the way on bars for Alabama with a 9.900, but felt some discomfort in her knee after the routine and did not compete on beam or floor.

Duckworth said Doggette will be further evaluated tomorrow.

The mood was somewhat somber in the postgame press conference, and Duckworth said the team was crying at the end of the meet because they don’t want to see any of their sisters hurt.

“Griffin is an awesome leader on this team,” Duckworth said. “She is the young lady that’s always on time, always early, always knows exactly where she needs to be when we need to do things… We will redefine her role, and she will own that role for the rest of the season, and we’re going to help her for whatever it’s going to be.”

The theme for this team has been “Thorns and Transformations.”

Duckworth called tonight a big thorn, but said it will make her team stronger going forward.

Next up, Alabama hits the road to compete against SEC-leading Florida on Feb. 21.