Old rivalries never die. And, seeing the brash Gym Dawgs across the floor brought out the best in the Crimson Tide and its coaching staff. Alabama was nearly flawless in its defense of Coleman Coliseum, posting a 197.225 against some tough judges. The win gave Alabama its NCAA-record 32nd Regional Title. And, for an NCAA-record 36th-straight season, the Crimson Tide has punched its ticket the the NCAA National Championships.
On an evening of stingy scoring, the future of the Crimson Tide stole the show, even as its star seniors lit up the floor.
Following an exception 49.200 floor exercise that gave Alabama some breathing room, the Crimson Tide moved on to its weakest event, the vault. Wonder of wonders, not only did Alabama excel on the apparatus, it won the vault team event. With three Alabama gymnasts setting new highs, and posting an unbelievable 49.350.
After a break, the Tide’s strongest performance perhaps came next — the Crimson Tide may not have dominated the score, but their performance on the uneven bars this evening was the best it has been all season: crisp, powerful, athletic, fluid, precise.
As usual, beam was a strength for the team, particularly moored by Senior Kiana Winston, who posted a career high score of 9.925 to claim the event. Alabama had a season high on the perilous four-inches-of-hell, with Winston and Senior Nicky Guerrero stealing the show.
Despite the veteran anchors and crowd favorites, it was Lexi Graber who announced (again) that she is the superstar of the future. The freshman won the vault title with a 9.950; she led a solid Tide Floor routine, posting a 9.875; and hit 9.875 on the beam. Lexi’s 39.575 was more than enough for her to claim the Regional Individual Championship.
That much ballyhooed rematch between No. 7 Michigan and No. 6 Alabama did not particularly materialize after the first rotation. Instead, it was an old foe led by a familiar face that posed the most threat threat to the Tide’s NCAA-record 32nd regional crown — the rebuilding and resurgent Bulldogs finished second to advance to nationals with their 196.500. Despite the name on the coach’s office, it was clear that these Gym Dawgs look to legendary foil Suzanne Yoculan for direction. Everything in their routines tonight bore her imprimatur: from coquettish beam routines to UGA’s high energy floor show.
Missouri continues to improve, and had another strong showing in Coleman Coliseum. As we wrote in this morning’s preview, the Tigers (and their counterparts at Illinois) are very solid teams. Missouri in particular lacks a serious game-changer, while the Illini just don’t have enough quality depth. Central Michigan easily had its best meet of the season and impressed everyone with their scrapiness, despite some mingy scoring by inconsistent judges. In addition to being excellent on the beam, the Chips had a solid floor and performed quite well on the uneven bars. In many respects they, the Illini and Mizzou in particular seemed to be judged by the name on their warmup jackets.
But on this night, no one would seriously threaten the Tide. Illinois competed hard (and, honestly should have been the runners-up,) and the Gym Dogs were still seven-tenths of a point from being in Alabama’s stratosphere. This was the performance that Alabama fans — and certainly Coach Dana Duckworth — have been waiting for all season...and maybe even the past four years.
If this Alabama competes at this level on April 20-21 in St. Louis, the Crimson Tide will be more than participants; they have to be considered a strong contender for the 2018 national championship.
Roll Tide and congratulations to the Crimson Tide.