Led by first team All-America gymnasts Kiana Winston and Nickie Guerrero, and second teamer Aja Sims, the Alabama Crimson Tide takes to the floor, (and the vault, the bars, and beam) Friday night in St. Louis hoping to earn a spot in Saturday’s ‘Super Six’ National Championship. In order to stay alive, the team has to put together its best meet of the season. (FYI I am including a number of interesting charts, which explain the highs and lows of 2017. These are hyperlinked throughout.)
Alabama is among the twelve teams who earned a spot in the semi-finals by virtue of finishing in the top two at one of six regional competitions. For the Tide this is the 35th time they have made it this far, more than any team other than the Utah Utes who have been to 36 national championships. (I still hate them from the 2009 Sugar Bowl.) The last time ‘Bama didn’t make it to Super Six was 2007, and Coach Dana Duckworth and her charges do not want a repeat. But getting into position to make their 23rd Super Six and win their seventh national title isn’t going to be easy.
Consider that of the 12 teams who qualified for the two six-team semi-finals only two, Washington and Oregon State, had a lower score in regionals than did Alabama. The Tide’s meager total of 196.625 was lower than the scores of Oklahoma, LSU, Florida, Michigan, UCLA, Denver, Utah, and Georgia. And how’s this for disheartening, Nebraska had the same score as Bama. Yikes! Nebraska? Hardly a gymnastics powerhouse. WTH!
This result does not gel with what Tide gymnasts or their fan base has come to expect. The April Fool's Day regionals saw the team with a season low 48.8 on vault and 49.0 on beam. Two gymnasts had major balance checks on beam. Three had dreadful landings on vault. An awful outing after what has been a less than consistent third season for Duckworth. This interesting series of graphics shows how individual gymnasts have scored on different equipment all season and you can see how dreadful April 1st was for the team as a whole, and for usually stellar competitors such as Kiana Winston, Maddie Desch, Nickie Guerrero, and Katie Bailey. (note how far the charts dive on 4/1.)
The Line Up
Half the field, including top ranked Oklahoma, UCLA, Utah, Denver, Washington, and Oregon State, competes in the first semi-final at 12 pm EDT on ESPN2. If you can watch this season don’t miss UCLA’s Peng Peng Lee on bars. She is spectacular. Maggie Nichols is a big reason the Sooners are the favorites.
The second 6-team semifinal, which gets underway at 8pm EDT on ESPNU, is particularly interesting in that it includes all four SEC qualifiers: second ranked LSU, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, along with Nebraska and, the team that topped Alabama at the Morgantown regional, Michigan. Both semis will feature cameras focused on individual events on-line, on watchESPN.
The top three finishers from each semi move on to Saturday's Super Six and, as Oklahoma and LSU have been lights out all season, the real battle in morning and evening will be for second and third place.
Regional Scores Actually Mattered, Sadly
Every team starts Friday with a clean slate. Sorta. Turns out the semi-final rotation schedule is based on a team's regional score—which in our semi-final means Alabama and Nebraska have the unenviable task of finishing their fourth and last event during the fifth rotation, (awkward!) which means both will have to sit and hope that their final score holds up as the four higher seeded teams (in this case, LSU, Florida, Georgia, and Michigan) head to their final apparatus in the sixth rotation.
A quick reminder, as there are six teams competing in four events, two teams have to ‘sit out’ in each of the six rotations. It is preferable to be competing at the end rather than sitting out, but….sigh. So here goes, Alabama begins in the first rotation on floor exercise, then in the second rotation the team heads to vault. The team sits out for the third rotation, then moves to bars during rotation four, and finishes on beam in rotation five.
In the words of OWB, “Hope for the Best.”
On a positive note, Alabama defeated both Florida and Georgia in the regular season and this team is fully capable of beating Michigan. Nebraska shouldn’t be a factor. The problem for the team this season has been that the team hasn’t been hitting on all cylinders. In other words, Bama needs every gymnasts best performance Friday. If they can do that, they should finish in the top three. My heart says Alabama for the session win and Kiana Winston for all-around, but my head says LSU, Florida, and Alabama, in that order. Roll Tide. Come on ladies ‘stick that landin.’