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2020 Review: Alabama Gymnastics sees some improvements in a transition season

At the same time, it saw some declines in other areas

<p zoompage-fontsize="15" style="">NCAA GYMNASTICS: APR 20 Women’s National Championship

Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first:

Not being negative. There was a lot to like about this year, particularly since it truly is a transitional season. But, we have to acknowledge the warts and all.

  • Three of the five worst gymnastics seasons in the last 22 years have occurred under coach Dana Duckworth — and a fourth season tied the second-lowest mark of Patterson’s final two decades. From 1998 until 2014, Alabama finished 8th just one time and 6th another time. In all other seasons it was a Top 5 program, and usually in the Top 3. Since Coach Duckworth took the reigns, the Crimson Tide has finished 3rd, 3rd (winning an SEC Title), 6th, 8th, 12th, and now in this rebound year 8th again. Once Sarah’s kids graduated, it just has not been the same, and there’s no point in denying the glaringly obvious here. Whether it is talent or coaching the little things, remains to be seen.
  • Alabama’s vault and beam were simply not there this year. Alabama was 12th in the nation in vault and 13th on the beam. Beam has particularly seen a precipitous drop-off the last two years. From 5th, 4th and 6th place marks, the Tide was 11th last season and regressed this year to 13th. Alabama posted just four beam routines at or above 9.900.
  • Vault has also regressed the last two years — from 5th, 5th, and 6th, to 9th and then 12th. There were just three vaults at or above 9.900 this season for Alabama.
  • Alabama finished .500 again on the season. Yes, wins and losses don’t matter so much in gymnastics: It’s about the scoring. But those Ws matter to recruiting, to the athletes, and ultimately head-to-head for titles.

Let’s get to the good stuff:

  • Alabama was a much more consistent squad this season — there were a few aberrant meets (where the uneven bars weren’t up to par, for instance) — but Alabama was remarkably consistent in meet scoring. You could practically pencil in a starting score of 197.000 and then adjust slightly up or down as the rotations progressed. There were just three meets that went below that mark.
  • The Tide was outstanding on Floor. Alabama was ranked 6th in the event, its best finish in four years.
  • The uneven bars improved drastically. Last season, Alabama was 15th — this year, it was 6th.
  • Alabama was very competitive in (most of) its biggest meets of the season — tying for second in the Dallas Metroplex challenge; posting a very good score against visiting powerhouse No. 1 Oklahoma; not backing down from Florida on the road (also scoring well), winning a big road meet against No. 5 LSU; and absolutely smacking around Georgia on Senior Night.
  • Lexi Graber only claimed one all-around title this season. However, she was the most consistent all-arounder, with her presence on the mat worth +.9250 over Alabama’s median scorer.
  • In fact, some upperclassmen were much-needed difference-makers as specialists too, with Alonza Klopfer (+1.25) and Shallon Olsen standing out (+1.450).
  • But, it is hard to overlook those spectacular freshmen all-arounders. The number one impact athlete this season was in fact freshman Louisa Blanco (+1.450, tied with Olsen). Markarri Doggette wasn’t far behind — in 3rd position at +1.425.
  • How can you not love the massive improvement in scoring — this season, Duckworth’s crew posted an average of 197.006. That is a half-point higher than last season’s 196.530. That is simply a stunning turnaround. Again, big performances by specialists and the emergence of two great freshmen made the difference.

So, what do we make of the 2020 Crimson Tide?

It’s fair to call it a mixed bag. Some lingering issues stuck around, particularly the now-predictable slow start, with Alabama beginning the year with its worst meet of the season. The regression on vault and beam, two of the three most technical events, was a bit of a disappointment. It seems fair to say that the team simply did not having enough horses the past few seasons. That was particularly apparent in 2019. But, the emergence of Doggette and Blanco, and working them in the all-around lineup, was a godsend to this team. That depth simply had not been there of late.

The headspace was a lot better than it appeared to be in the last two years. The yips on Beam have to be sorted out, and the Vault starts have to get more difficult, but when it came to its biggest meets, the Tide stood toe-to-toe with Florida and Oklahoma (twice), tied Denver, and thrashed LSU. They dominated Mizzou in its Power of Pink meet. Attendance was again excellent — averaging well over 10,000 a meet.

The rest of the SEC has grown significantly more competitive, to be sure. But, at the same time, most of Alabama’s issues have been related more to unforced errors and execution than to simply getting out-talented (notable exceptions aside.) This team can score well. But, it also needs the emergence of talent, and far more consistency in doing the little things well, and continued the development of the very young roster that Coach Duckworth has on-hand.

Next season is Coach’s contract year. And she can, with a great deal of candor, point back to 2020 as a year that will define the rest of her tenure. Looking to that future, in a make-or-break year, it appears to be bright.



Grade the 2020 Alabama Gymnastics season

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  • 8%
    (6 votes)
  • 65%
    (49 votes)
  • 24%
    (18 votes)
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