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No. 9 Tide Gymnastics drops high-scoring affair to No. 1 Oklahoma

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Don’t call it a moral victory.

2019 NCAA Division I Women’s Gymnastics Championship Photo by Timothy Nwachukwu/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

We’re not much for trafficking in moral victories here, and especially not in a sport in which the Crimson Tide had long been numbered among the elite. But, most of the takeaways from Friday night’s loss to No. 1 Oklahoma were positive.

Posting the highest opening-night score in school history — and its highest scoring home opener since 2003 — the Crimson Tide simply got beat by a better squad. That’s the takeaway. SPOILERS.

The Oklahoma Sooners are defending national champions, have won four of the last six titles, are the top team in the country, boast a roster stocked with Olympians, and have the highest scoring team in the nation. The Dirt Burglars just do everything so...perfectly. They keep their bodies tight in rotation, they perfectly plant on the vault, they stick landings, they don’t hand-check, they don’t fall, and they are dominant floor athletes that also churn out highly entertaining, modern routines.

Still, for all that praise, the Sooners trip to Tuscaloosa was more of a high-scoring tussle than they likely bargained for. The Crimson Tide, carrying over a mostly-solid performance from last Friday, posted a 197.400 in the loss. And, as with last week’s loss to Auburn, it was the Freshmen who helped lead the way — particularly Louisa Blanco and Makarri Doggette, who both nailed 9.925s.

But, when you’re facing the most talented team in the country, you can ill afford to not do the little things perfectly. And, as with last week’s loss, those little things added up. As we’ve seen over the past few years, Alabama’s vault routine remains its weakest event, with some sloppy form and unsteady landing costing it valuable points. Aside from the occasional falls, the Tide is a very good beam team. Fortunately, Good Beam Alabama showed out Friday: Against OU, Alabama posted a 49.4. The uneven bars were outstanding, with Alabama netting its highest score in two years (49.425). Unfortunately, the floor exercise retains its uneven and flat choreography and music — not the best way to end a home meet in an event where the deciding factor is often aesthetic. Alongside vault, Floor again seems to be an area needing improving. It seems as though we’ve said that for years, but it rings true in 2020 as well. Whether the Tide needs a fundamental rethink of power vs. artistry is anyone’s guess.

When you contrast Alabama’s underclass-laden roster against OU’s practical perfection, these imperfections are all the more glaring. But, that’s not a completely fair contrast — this team ought to be measured mostly against itself and in the ways that it can improve...and did improve.

The Tide were much better in many areas than they were last week. There were no major gaffes; there were several outstanding performances; and the future of the squad remains bright — both immediately and over the next few years. On Friday, the Crimson Tide could (and would) have beaten all but a handful of teams in the nation. Its score in Coleman Coliseum was better than any it posted at all last season. And, the 197.400 will buoy the Tide all the way from No. 9 to No. 2 when the rankings are released on Monday, despite an 0-2 start (gymnastics rankings are based upon scores, not W-L record).

Still, in as much as this was a learning experience for the young team, it is also one for the staff. The vault has to be cleaned up, and the floor routines need to modern-up. Until those happen, then the Crimson Tide will remain a very good team, not a dominant one — and, ultimately, one that’s just a step behind that handful of teams that are legitimately competing for national titles.

This week, Alabama (0-2) travels to Fort Worth for the 2020 Metroplex Challenge, where it will face long-time nemesis Georgia, rising power No. 3 Denver, and these No. 1 Oklahoma Sooners again.

Hope for the best