It was not the regional performance Alabama gymnasts or their fans envisioned. The Tide unexpectedly nailed its first event, the dreaded uneven bars, but then had to fight for balance on beam, did very well on floor, but stumbled to an absolutely horrid finish on vault, and went into the clubhouse with a marginal 196.625.
First Rotation: High Hopes
Before the day began the team spoke of how the last time they competed in the 2002 Morgantown regional they won it and went on to win the national title. They hoped for a similar outcome and omen Saturday and, after the first rotation, a 32nd regional title was theirs for the taking. All six gymnasts made it through their uneven bars routines with no falls and every landing stuck. After the first rotation Alabama had a 49.3 and, more importantly, a one-tenth lead over two seed Michigan, who opened with a 49.2 on vault. For a brief moment the gymnastic gods were smiling on the Tide.
Second Rotation: High Hopes Dashed
The second rotation took the team to the event where it usually sparkles, balance beam, and right out of the gate senior Keely McNeer nearly tumbled off, her score a 9.55. The next two routines earned in the 9.85 range and it looked like Bama might survive beam with a decent score. Then, shockingly, normally solid-as-a-rock Kiana Winston almost fell during her beam routine and earned just a 9.65. The Tide finished with a poor 49.0, for a mid-way total of 98.3.
Third Rotation: Wolverines Snatch the Lead
Alabama sat out the third rotation, while Michigan, who had sat down the second, came out swinging and wrested the lead from the Tide with a dynamic error-free 49.475 performance on bars. So drastic was the scoring differential for Alabama and Michigan on their second events, the Wolverines were able to go from being down a tenth of a point to up by three-tenths of a point. Just like that, Alabama seemingly had undone any chance to finish first in Morgantown. In fact after the third rotation, Alabama was closer in score to third place Southern Utah than to Michigan.
Fourth Rotation: Hope Restored, Momentarily
Rotation four sent the Tide to floor exercise where the team sparkled (alleluia) thanks to 9.9s from Maddie Desch and Kiana Winston and a 9.95 from Aja Sims, for a total of 49.475. At this point, despite a wobble-free rotation on beam by the Wolverines, Alabama was now back to within one-tenth of a point and actually had a chance to win provided they performed well on vault.
Fifth Rotation: All Hope Dashed
Due to an odd arrangement that forces the top seeded teams in all 6 regionals to sit out their event’s sixth rotation, Alabama went into the fifth rotation knowing it was make or break. The Tide needed to retake the lead and hope it held up while Michigan, Southern Utah, West Virginia, and George Washington continued to compete. But the vault began badly when lead-off competitor Wynter Childers stumbled to a 9.65. Sadly, the Tide wasn’t finished with ungainly gaffes. Abby Armbrecht and Kiana Winston earned 9.850 and 9.825, but then Katie Bailey was short on her landing, earning a 9.725 and freshman Maddie Desch actually fell backwards onto her butt for a 9.325. Alabama finished with a mediocre 196.625 and could only watch. (The sad image of Desch on her behind kinda summed up the event, IMHO)
Six Rotation: Reality Realized
In the sixth rotation, a confident competent Michigan stormed to victory on the floor with a 197.350. The situation was so bad that I actually began worrying that West Virginia may overtake the Tide. Mercifully they didn’t despite generous final round scores at its home arena. BTW, Michigan’s total was actually higher than the 197.125 earned by the Florida Gators Saturday in Gainesville.
Final Results from Morgantown
- Michigan 197.350
- Alabama 196.625
- West Virginia University 196.325
- Southern Utah 195.675
- George Washington 195.625
- Kent State 194.375
Because both the first and second place finishers qualify for the twelve team semi-finals in St. Louis, April 14th, the Tide has one last shot to put it all together. So tighten up and roll tide.
- Kiana Winston was uncharacteristically off Saturday. That can’t/won’t happen in St. Louis.
- Alabama’s vault score was the worst of the season. As the WVU Regional announcers (two charmingly amateurish young ladies who sounded barely old enough to be in college) astutely observed, “Alabama left a lot of points on the table.” True.
- In the Gainesville Regional, Florida and Georgia advanced.
- In the Lincoln Regional, LSU and Nebraska advanced. Nebraska actually had a higher score point total than did the Tide. *sigh*
- In the Fayetteville Regional, Utah and Denver advanced. Both teams outscored Alabama. *sigh sigh*
- In the Champaign Regional, UCLA and Oregon State advanced.
- In the Seattle Regional, Oklahoma and Washington advanced.
The Semi-finals will be televised Friday April 14th beginning at 12pm central on ESPN3. Let’s hope it’s indeed a good Friday for the Tide.