In the early 90s, Alabama Gymnastics had a masterful performer on the balance beam, Dana Dobransky.
Dobransky was a five-time All-American. She earned back-to-back SEC and national titles on the beam, including netting a perfect 10.0 at Nationals. Along the way, she helped anchor a Tide team that won an SEC title in 1990 and a national title in 1991. She would go on and coach for the legendary Sarah Patterson, being part of a staff that won three SEC titles and three national championships.
Dana Dobransky is now known to most younger readers as Alabama Gymnastics head coach Dana Duckworth.
There are a few baffling Alabama sports mysteries that have never been solved; indeed, they may never be solved — Never getting calls in Coleman Coliseum, bad-shooting Kentucky teams unable to miss from the perimeter, every quarterback on earth having a career game against Alabama, opposing kickers becoming clutch against Nick Saban, why Alabama can’t squeak a 38-yarder between the uprights...and why one of Alabama’s most decorated beam athletes has fielded squads that magnificently underperform on the apparatus.
Friday night was just such a night for the Crimson Tide...again.
We’ll recap this as quickly as necessary. Because, it’s a story that is becoming depressingly familiar in Alabama sports this year — the opposing squad’s playmakers came up big down the stretch, and Alabama’s did not.
After a nip-and-tuck first three rotations, Alabama entered the fourth and final event, the balance beam, with a scant 1/10th point lead over cross-state rival Auburn. The Tigers, as the home squad, meanwhile finished with the crowd-friendly floor exercise. The odds were slim that Alabama could hold on to that margin without an exceptionally solid showing on the beam.
Instead, what it got was two falls on the balance beam, including one from its final competitor, arguably the Tide’s best all-arounder, Lexi Graber. Meanwhile, Auburn’s best pure athlete — Derrian Gobourne — posted a 9.95 for the Tigers. The final was deceptively lopsided, as Auburn defeated No. 10 Alabama 196.625-196.025.
We say deceptive, because the Tide was good on the night for the most part — it won the Floor and Bars overall, and they were solid enough on the Vault such that the Tide should have been in position to post a road win. But, once again, the squad was doomed by the four-inch wide terror that has become the bane of Alabama Gymnastics.
For all that, there were some positive takeaways. The Tide has been traditionally slow-starting under Duckworth. But, Alabama did eclipse the 196 mark in its first meet, albeit barely. And, the event was a tough one — a road trip to the ‘Barn. The Floor was not exactly the most inspiring choreography, but Alabama’s floor MO has tended towards powerful athletics over pure artistry, and that was on display again Friday night: Three gymnasts posted 9.9 on the Floor. And, the veteran core largely tallied solid scoring you would expect of them.
More encouragingly, there is plainly a ton of very good young talent on this squad too. Try this one on for size: Luisa Blanco, Jensie Givens, Makarri Doggette, Ella Burgess, Emily Gaskins, Griffin James, Shallen Olsen, and Mati Waligora are all freshmen or sophomores. And three of those true freshmen (Blanco, Doggette, Burgess) started in at least three events. The latter is of tremendous importance, because Alabama is in need of developing more game-changing all-arounders.
In all, it was a frustrating evening however.
You can see the talent that this squad has, and that makes seeing the same ole’ problems all the more damning. From the freshmen to the seniors: Falls, hand checks, unforced errors, never quite having a wow factor on the floor, never having dominating vault performers.
Yes, some of this loss has to do with youth on the squad. But it wasn’t solely because of the learning curve — it was errors from the upperclassmen that ultimately downed the Tide down the stretch, after all. So, call it a team loss.
And, Coach Duckworth is right. The SEC has gotten a lot more difficult over the past few seasons. But that degree of difficulty makes the necessary program improvement — correcting its persistent and recurrent small errors — all the more pressing for the coaching staff. Simply suiting up and overwhelming opponents with talent is no longer an option for any team in this conference, not even its traditional oligarchs. Until that happens, then Alabama will continue to fall further behind LSU, Florida — and now, disgustingly — a resurgent Georgia.
Who knows: the Crimson Tide may even get over that mystifying Beam jinx one day too.
Alabama faces defending national champion, No. 1 Oklahoma in Coleman Coliseum Friday night at 7:45 CST.