Alabama Gymnastics coach Dana Duckworth has a talismanic refrain she has used throughout her career. Every time the Tide finds itself struggling, she will assure us that (paraphrased): “Every meet is a learning experience for us individually and as a team. We’re just trying to get better each week.”
If the results of her fourth season are any indication, we can now take her at her word.
Friday night, in front of a hostile road crowd, the No. 7 Crimson Tide had its best meet of the year, posting a season-high 197.3—, absolutely destroying the fall-prone 16th-ranked Auburn Tigers, 197.300 - 195.400.
Everything clicked for the Crimson Tide on the Plains: Alabama posted season-high road scores on the floor and vault. It had its second-highest road score on the uneven bars. And then, for good measure, ‘Bama ended the night posting a season high on the most difficult apparatus, the balance beam.
As usual, Seniors Kiana Winston and Nickie Guerrero were brilliant. The two tied for the floor championship, while Winston won the bars title and Guerrero won the vault title. Surging Freshman Lexi Graber won her first title of the season, closing the meet out with a beam title.
Don’t look now, but Alabama is very clearly hitting its stride at the right time of the season. The Tide started off with perhaps its weakest series of performances in years. In the first four meets, ‘Bama had not posted a single score in the 197s. But, beginning with its strong showing in the Power of Pink meet — a win over No. 8 Arkansas — the Tide have begun to be a much better, more consistent program.
[C}onsistent improvement and carrying over Friday night’s momentum, rather than demanding a win [against No. 3 Florida], would be the most encouraging sign that the team is growing into its own at the halfway point of the season.
To its credit, Alabama has done just that. In its last four meets: the Tide is 3-1; it has picked up its first road win of the year; it has reached 197+ on three occasions; and has improved its scoring enough to move from No. 11 to No. 7 — and that ranking will undoubtedly rise against following the crimson rout last night.
“Every meet is a learning experience for us individually and as a team. We’re just trying to get better each week.”
For perhaps the first time in the Duckworth tenure, we can see the team’s weekly improvement over the course of this year, from meet-to-meet. Perhaps Duckworth, like her team, just needed her own time to mature, her own learning experiences, and her own opportunity to get better each week.
If 2018 is the watershed, and if the program has truly turned the corner, then even her most strident critics should be satisfied.