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No. 7 Alabama Gymnastics Upend No. 1 Florida Gators

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Tide Gymnasts never trail, as they thoroughly dominate the Gators 197.4-196.8

It was a cold and rainy night in Tuscaloosa. It was also redemption night.

The No. 7 Alabama Gymnastics team faced off against No. 1 Florida on Friday in what has become one of the most heated new rivalries in college gymnastics. Florida, the reigning co-national champions, have been on fire so far this season. Even without their superstar, the injured Bridget Sloan, the Gator line-up is deep with talent.

After last week's loss to Arkansas in Fayetteville, the Tide squad were angry and motivated. Upon their return to Tuscaloosa at 2am following that meet, the Tide gymnasts wanted to get right back in the gym. As in, heading right to the gym from the airport. Would Bama be able to come back from last week's
disastrous beam outing in the 4th rotation that cost them the meet? Coleman Coliseum's near-capacity, raucous crowd of 13,778 would soon find out.

Alabama would begin the meet on vault, where they are ranked 2nd in the country. Keely McNeer was out of the gate first, posting a strong 9.825.  Kaitlyn Clark was just short of perfect with her 9.975. Senior Kayla Williams mistimed her run and had to abort the vault before reaching the springboard. Per NCAA rules, Williams was allowed to attempt the vault again. She earned a solid 9.875. Florida's bars rotation was good, but not spectacular. The Tide lead the Gators 49.500 - 48.950 to finish Rotation One.

The second rotation brought Alabama to the bars, and their confidence seemed to be building, as every Alabama gymnasts posted a solid score, including 9.85s from Aja Sims and Amanda Jetter. Florida next took the vault, where they are ranked 3rd in the country on the event. The Gators performed well, yet at the end of the rotation, the Tide led the meet 98.725 - 98.450.

Up next for the Tide in the third rotation was the balance beam, as the Gators headed to the floor in this dual meet. Coach Dana Duckworth talked about putting a focus on mental toughness in the week's practices. This was more than evident in the touch warm-up, where the gymnasts were focused but not tense. Kayla Williams set the tone for the Tide on the beam, last week's undoing, scoring a 9.850. Katie Bailey and Keely McNeer built on that score with a 9.9 and 9.875, respectively. Alabama executed each element with precision and aggression. After the 3rd rotation, Alabama remained in front of Florida, 148.050 - 147.800.

The fourth and final rotation would put Alabama on the floor, where the Tide came in ranked No. 1 in the country. As the ladies entered the final rotation, they paid homage to Alabama's long-standing tradition and they each held four fingers aloft - to show their determination to focus and push through all four rotations. Alabama's entire floor lineup was stellar, with Kaitlyn Clark scoring a 9.9. Two 9.875's were posted by Katie Bailey and Lauren Beers. Florida, meanwhile, struggled on balance beam, notching a fall and far more balance checks than would be expected from the No. 1 team in the country.

After dominating every event and never trailing, Alabama was officially announced the winner, defeating Florida by a commanding score of 197.400 - 196.800. This was a triumphant victory for the Tide, and an especially sweet one, after the disappointment of the week before. Importantly, this was an early, signature meet for Coach Dana Duckworth - she promised excellence, and everyone, including her, delivered.

Alabama Gymnastics hits the road again next week to take on the No. 14 Kentucky Wildcats in Lexington. The next home meet will be on Friday, February 6 at 7 PM when the Tide host Auburn.

Tickets can be purchased at rolltide.com or by calling 205-348-BAMA.