Alabama gymnastics prepares for an Olympic-sized clash with No. 8 Auburn

Robert Cortez | @robertcortez27, Assistant Sports Editor

No. 9 Alabama gymnastics (1-2; 1-1 SEC) is set to hit the road for the third time in this young 2022 season to face in-state rival No. 8 Auburn gymnastics (3-0; 1-0 SEC). 

Alabama has improved their score in every meet this season, and head coach Dana Duckworth continues to see a locked-in mentality from Team 48.

“I have seen a great deal of discipline [out] of these young women,” Duckworth said. “There is attention to detail, and there’s a strong work ethic that you just see every day. And what’s beautiful is they haven’t slowed down.” 

The history between the two programs heavily favors the Crimson Tide with a 128-11 record against the Tigers. But the field has started to level out. They have split the last two meetings, and this competition will be stiffer. 

It’s the first time since 2015 that both programs are ranked in the top 10 heading into the matchup. 

Auburn has not only climbed the rankings because of their veterans in fifth-year Drew Watson, senior Derrian Gobourne and junior Aria Brusch, but also because of Olympic all-around gold medalist, freshman Suni Lee. 

Lee has contributed solid scores and increased fan engagement, according to Duckworth. Last week, Auburn set a record for its largest regular-season home crowd against Iowa State, with 9,121 fans in attendance. 

“What’s beautiful, I think, is that [Lee’s presence] just brings a fan engagement and fan excitement. And if that helps us fill our stands, I think that just makes college gymnastics that much more relevant,” Duckworth said. 

Lee will not be the only Olympian competing inside Auburn Arena Friday night. Alabama has two-time Canadian Olympian senior Shallon Olsen on its roster. A meet that features two gymnasts coming fresh off the Olympics is rare.

“I think it’s fantastic for college gymnastics that we have Olympians coming to college and getting an awesome education and taking their gifts and sharing them with the college gymnastics fan base,” Duckworth said. “I believe it just enhances the quality of the sport.” 

A possibly sold-out and electric atmosphere is something Alabama has already experienced during its meet in Florida on Jan. 16. Graduate student Lexi Graber said it’s important for her team to let the energy from Florida carry over to this meet. 

“We just built off of any energy from the [Florida] crowd,” Graber said. “So I think going into Auburn, we’re just going to use that energy the same way we did at Florida.” 

Auburn is ranked higher, but Alabama has a better season-high score of 197.650 compared to the Tigers’ 197.350. 

Breakdown 

Vault: Auburn holds the edge on the apparatus, ranked No. 6 nationally, compared to Alabama’s No. 13 ranking. The Tigers’ season average of 49.250 is better than the Crimson Tide’s season-high on the event, 49.225. 

Uneven bars: Alabama showed itself as an elite uneven bars team last week, posting a 49.550 on the event for a season-high. Alabama is ranked No. 4 on the event, compared to Auburn’s No. 12, because of its 49.200 average. 

Balance beam: The Tigers hold a 49.233 average and are No. 6 nationally. The Crimson Tide has a 49.167 average, making it the 11th-best team in the event. 

Floor: Alabama and Auburn both rank lowest on the floor event. The Tigers rank 13th, while the Crimson Tide rank 16th, but both squads made major improvements on the apparatus last weekend. Each team posted season highs. Alabama tallied a 49.625 against Kentucky, while Auburn put together a 49.350 event score against Iowa State. 

The rivalry meet is set for Friday, Jan. 28, at 8 p.m. CT and will broadcast on ESPN2. 

Questions? Email the Sports desk at sports@cw.ua.edu.