Hannah Saad | @hannah_saad21
Alabama gymnastics etched new and veteran names into each event lineup during Friday night’s season opener. This paid dividends for head coach Dana Duckworth’s squad, and the Tide left Coleman Coliseum with a 196.850-195.825 win over the Kentucky Wildcats.
“What I saw was an absolute team effort,” Duckworth said. “A great start for the team and the sky’s the limit.”
Alabama gymnastics fans will see two new faces a lot this season: sophomore Mati Waligora, who missed last season due to injury, and freshman Shania Adams. Adams competed all-around, which was highlighted by her 9.875 score on bars, and Waligora competed in three of the four events with a team-best score of 9.925 on beam along with fellow sophomore Makarri Doggette.
“Mati is just consistent and a very confident competitor,” Duckworth said. “They [Waligora and Adams] have a calmness about them when they compete, which is exciting to watch and set a great example for other people.”
One of the biggest lineup differences for the Crimson Tide was that senior Lexi Graber – who typically anchors vault, beam and floor – did not anchor one event. Adams anchored both vault and floor while Doggette anchored the beam. Graber scored a team-high for the night on both vault, 9.875, and floor, 9.925.
The most eye-catching stat from the meet: Alabama suffered three falls. Graber fell on bars and junior Emily Gaskins fell on both beam and floor. Luckily for Alabama, none of these falls were counted, as those who competed after these performances were able to stay on the apparatus.
For Duckworth, the near-misses were a symbol of the team’s resiliency – and its resolve to improve.
“It is also important for our ladies to come back after a fall and understand the next moment is much more important,” Duckworth said. “What you learn is you can not make up for someone else’s routine, but you have to do your job, stay in your moment and stay disciplined and focused.”
A standing ovation was given by the Alabama crowd, limited due to COVID-19 restrictions, after a floor performance by junior Griffin James. It was her first time competing since last year, when she ruptured her Achilles tendon on the same apparatus, which ended her season. Tears filled James’ eyes once she concluded her routine, and her teammates stormed her with hugs and cheers.
“She [James] has done everything to become the best version of herself to be able to go out there,” Duckworth said. “When she dances her floor routine in the gym every day she gives her whole heart, and I’m very proud of Griffin.”
Two gymnasts that only competed in one event instead of the usual multiple were sophomore Luisa Blanco and junior Shallon Olsen. Duckworth stated that Blanco was only available to compete on vault this week, but hopes she will be available to compete in other lineups as the season progresses.
Alabama will head to Columbia, Missouri for its next match on Friday, Jan. 15, against the Missouri Tigers. The first vault is scheduled for 7 p.m. CT and can be streamed on the SEC Network Plus.