A fall here and there, an unexpected out of bounds call and the result is not championship caliber gymnastics, not in the SEC. Despite a few quality performances from the Tide, the overall sharpness was just not there Saturday night in Jacksonville, and as a result the Alabama gymnastics team finished as it was seeded: in third place. Sadly, Alabama and Georgia became afterthoughts as LSU and Florida battled with precision and passion. In the end, LSU showed why the Tigers are ranked second nationally beating back a fierce effort from Florida, getting D-D Breaux only her second championship title in 40 years with a 198.075-197.825 victory over the Gators.
The creeky stage was set from the start. The Tide’s very first performer, typically steady senior Keely McNeer, fresh back from an injury, fell off the beam and Bama started with a dreadful 9.0. It was an unnerving baptism for the fourth ranked beam team, but Bama clawed back powered by 9.9s from Wynter Childers and Nickie Guerrero and a 9.95 from Kiana Winston to finish the first rotation with a 49.4, .175 points behind top seed LSU’s 49.575 on vault (which included a perfect 10.0 from Ashleigh Gnat). Florida who began on bars was third, Georgia on floor was fourth.
Alabama moved to the floor, an area where the Tide was expected to and had to do well for any chance at an upset win. While its hard to pinpoint exactly what went wrong, outside Kiana Winston’s 9.925, Bama just didn’t quite have it. Senior Katie Bailey bounced out of bounds on the very bouncy platform floor, earning only a 9.7. That score was dropped but overall the critically needed crisp landings weren’t there, and Alabama fell to third with a 98.65. Meanwhile, LSU was largely electric on bars, fast, sure-handed, with confident landings. Florida was solid on vault led by Alex McMurtry’s 9.95 on a double twisting Yurchenko.
(I’m not mentioning any Georgia performances because God love ‘em the dawgs just didn’t matter at all in this meet.)
On to the third rotation, Alabama managed to stick only two landings on vault on a night where LSU and Florida had already made it look easy to land much more difficult vaults. Kudos to freshmen Wynter Childers and Maddie Desch who got scores of 9.9 and 9.950 respectively. Kiana Winston’s giant step back score 9.8 was dropped. While Bama earned a 49.4 on vault, Florida had earned a 49.5 on the event and LSU tallied a 49.575. Those one thousands of a point tend to add up. Meantime, Florida wowed on floor with a 49.475 , and although LSU began beam with a fall, the Tigers rallied to finish with a 49.5. Even with a fall, LSU’s beam score was higher than any score Alabama earned all night. At the end of the third rotation, a place where Alabama had to have the lead (given the Tide finished on its weakest apparatus bars,) the Tide was not in first or in second but in third with a 148.05 to LSU’s 148.525 and Florida’s 148.375. Georgia trailed with a 147.575.
On to bars where right on cue a Crimson Tide gymnast fell. This time it was Shea Mahoney. Alabama managed only one score in the 9.9 range, Katie Bailey’s 9.95. That was all she wrote folks. The final results:
EARLY SESSION: First Session Goes to Kentucky
The early session, which featured the numbers 5 through 8 teams, featured a battle between five seed Kentucky and seven seed Auburn that came down to the final performer, Kentucky freshman Molly Korth on floor. She needed a 9.8 to win the meet for Kentucky and got a 9.85 to snatch an upset win from the surprisingly consistent Auburn Tigers. The Wildcats finished with a 196.625 to Auburn’s 196.550, a difference of .075. Kentucky coach Tim Garrison is quietly building a strong program built around a team that included four gymnasts competing in all four events. Korth, who only enrolled in college in late December, won the afternoon session all-around with a solid 39.4. Mizzou struggled from a rocky start on bars and never could catch up, finishing with a 195.825. Arkansas brought up the rear with a 194.900.
BTW, Auburn turned in its best ever performance on bars 49.225 to pace Jeff Graba’s Tigers.
Regionals Up Next
LSU looks poised to make a run at Oklahoma for the National Championship. Alabama is not in the same league as either of those two IMHO. Regional match-ups will be announced March 20th. It is wait and see to find out where Bama will compete - no joke - on April Fool’s, April 1st. They can make it to nationals, April 14-15th in St. Louis, but need desperately to Tide(y) up their act.