A crowd of 11,749 came out to witness Friday night's matchup between long-time gymnastics powerhouse Alabama and a relative-newcomer, the No. 2 LSU Tigers. When these two rivals compete in any sport, it is usually a highly-anticipated and hotly-contested event. This one did not disappoint, and recent history added to the drama.
The Crimson Tide was coming off its highest road score of the season. LSU, meanwhile, was still basking in the glow of of a home victory over the former-No. 2 Florida Gators in Baton Rouge. The Bayou Bengals were also attempting to go undefeated in the SEC. Alabama. meanwhile, was holding on to its 49-meet, six-year long winning home streak. The last time the Tide lost in Coleman Coliseum was at the hands of -you guessed it- LSU, way back in 2009.
The meet presented additional challenges for the Tide. For a second week in a row, the team would be without superstar all-arounder Katie Bailey, who is still suffering from back spasms. Just as they had done the week before, Alabama shuffled their line-up, giving other gymnasts the chance to step up and contribute in areas they weren't normally used to.
Alabama began the competition on vault, coming out of the gate strong. Keely McNeer and Mackenzie Brannan both grabbed 9.850s. Kaitlyn Clark and Lauren Beers concluded the vault rotation with back to back 9.9s. LSU's night started on the uneven bars, where they had a solid showing. After one rotation, the Tide held a slim lead over the Tigers, 49.375 - 49.300.
Alabama took to the uneven bars for their second rotation. Amanda Jetter's 9.9 was her best bars performance of the season, punctuated with an emphatic stuck landing. Brannan, Carley Sims, and Aja Sims each collected 9.850s. The normally-consistent all-arounder Lauren Beers had an uncharacteristic fall on the bars. Fortunately, her low score of 9.175 was dropped. LSU, however, matched Alabama's vault performance, taking the lead from the Tide. Halfway through the meet, the score was 98.675 - 98.600 in LSU's favor.
The balance beam brought the debut of freshman Nickie Guerrero, a last minute addition to the Tide's beam lineup. It was a successful start, as she pulled in a 9.850. Identical scores were earned by McNeer, Beers, and Clark. It was a good, but not great, rotation for the Tide. Unfortunately, it was a night the Tide needed to be great. As Alabama was giving a solid beam rotation, LSU was taking the floor exercise by storm. Quirky, interesting choreography and clean tumbling gave LSU their highest road score on the floor all season. The Tigers increased their lead over Alabama 148.150 - 147.825, with Alabama going into its final rotation (and team strength,) the floor excercise.
Trailing by .325 as they moved to the floor exercise, the Tide had their work cut out for them. Alabama would be finishing on their strongest event, and had a home crowd rallying behind them. Jetter, Hunter Dennis, and Sims nailed their performances - all three scoring 9.9s. Dennis' performance was especially crucial, as she was last minute substitution in the lineup and made the most of the opportunity.
The meet rested squarely on the shoulders of arguably Alabama's best athlete, Lauren Beers. Beers, a top-10 individual all-arounder, had moments of unsteadiness in last week's Georgia meet, and was shaky on the bars earlier in the evening. However, the usually unflappable Beers made a critical mistake in her second tumbling pass, omitting one of the tumbling elements. She attempted to regain those points and salvage the meet, as she improvised on her final pass. However, the Junior's valiant effort did not bear fruit, and the score of 9.475 was not enough to lift the Tide to victory. LSU took the victory, 197.350 – 197.225, going undefeated in the SEC for the first time in program history. LSU came into Coleman bursting with moment and confidence, and it showed, as the Lady Tigers were simply excellent in this competition.
Alabama may not have been able to maintain the home streak, but there were stand-out Tide performances. Amanda Jetter finally put it all together, and gave her best uneven bars performance of the season. True freshman Nickie Guerrero was solid as a rock on beam in her first-ever competition for the Tide. Hunter Dennis and Carley Sims each tied their career-best scores on the floor exercise, with Sims showing exactly why she is the Tide's best performer on that event.
Next Friday, March 6 at 6:30 p.m. CT, Alabama will face the Missouri Tigers in Columbia.
On paper, the SEC's northernmost Tigers should be the season's least difficult opponent for the Tide. Missouri is presently ranked 41st out of 62 Division One gymnastics squads, and will be the first (and only) non-ranked foe the Tide will face. The Columbia meet should also be a great opportunity for Coach Duckworth to solidify the Tide rotation, should give Lauren Beers a chance to regroup, and it should also give Katie Bailey another week of needed rest with for the Tide's stretch run and the SEC tournament.