This weekend, the surging Alabama Crimson Tide look to carry over their second-half momentum into the SEC Championships in Duluth:
The 2023 SEC Gymnastics Championship will take place on Saturday, March 18 at Gas South Arena in Duluth, Ga. Session I will feature seeds 5-8 at 3:30 p.m. ET, and Session II will feature seeds 1-4 at 8 p.m. ET. Both sessions of the championships will air live on SEC Network.
The late-season push by the Tide allowed Alabama to eke into the conference’s top four, which in turn entitles them to compete in the evening sessions. There are two sessions, and you’d rather not be in the conference’s bottom half forcedp compete in the morning. That means Alabama will be with the usual heavy hitters: LSU and Florida, as well as upstart Kentucky.
By way of handicapping, there’s not really much to say about the favorite: No. 2 Florida has the nation’s best individual gymnast, Trinity Thomas — she’s certainly in the running for it in any event, and the rest of her competition are actual Olympians. She has spearheaded the powerhouse Gators into the national No. 2 spot, and they are an overwhelming favorite, alongside Oklahoma and perhaps Michigan, to win it all in Nationals. Best starters, best individual athlete, best bench. And, I hate to say it, best chances. That said, the Gators are historically tremendous beneficiaries of home point scoring, perhaps moreso than any team in the conference. If you go to Gainesville, factor in having to get at least a 198+ — because the judges just simply refuse to dock UF for flaws at home. On the road, they are far more mortal. Still the best team, but one that can be beaten with an elite competitive effort. Alabama just did it last year, in fact, in this very event.
No. 6 LSU is perhaps the most dynamic team — certainly the most photogenic — and they rely on big crowd energy to boost some of their artistic scores. Like Kentucky (and as usual) LSU excels on Vault, though they’re also Top 5 on Floor, and Top 10 on the rest of the apparatus. They are the anti-Kentucky, in that the Tigers have an outstanding core, and don’t use their bench as much as some teams: Aleah Finnegan, Hayleigh Bryant, Alyona Shchennikova are four-event competitors, and Arenas competes on 75% of them. As talented as anyone in the country — and that doesn’t even include specialists/Instagram sensations KJ Johnson and Livvy Dunne (though Dunne has been hurt all season).
The No. 8 Wildcats are your average decade-long overnight sensation. That is to say, for the last 5-6 years, an already-solid Kentucky team has incrementally improved almost every year. The Tide actually lost in Lexington to the ‘Cats. They are among the nation’s best vault teams, but they are solid Top 12 in everything else as well. UK doesn’t have many all-arounders, but they do use a ton of specialists. The bedrock of this team is Raena Worley, UK’s only four-event competitor and one of the best Floor specialists in the SEC. The ‘Cats are like Alabama though. Very good, but perhaps a smidge behind the pack on more technical events. The fact UK lives and dies with Worley scares you too.
No. 12 Auburn is not quite a one-woman team; they have do some bog-standard SEC-caliber athletes. But let’s not act that this team is not being dragged into any sort of revelence, much less prominence, without Suni Lee. That said, one person can affect the scoring of the rest of the ladies and give event-by-event bumps to routines that ordinarily would not score as high as the ‘Barn has been doing. Their highs have not been as high as other teams, nor have their lows. And their per-meet scoring is 3rd in the SEC: that’s the Suni Lee effect. They rank no higher than 10th on any event. It’s not an exciting team, but Suni leads the way on Bars and Beam, with Derrian Gobourne being the best Vault and Floor athlete. Solid team, but it would take a miracle to jump beyond 3rd or 4th — the rest of the squad just isn’t that good TBH — though the floor isn’t low either.
No. 10 Alabama. We’ve raved about the now-senior class at length here. Luisa Blanco is one of the 10 best gymnasts in America, and the reigning national champ on Beam — and has already notched three more 10s there this year. She and Lilly Hudson are also aces on the floor. Makarri Doggette, Mati Waligora and Ella Burgess are outstanding specialists in their own right. And keep on eye on sensational Freshman, Gabby Gladieux, especially on floor. Alabama is a good Floor and Beam team, but it is one of the weaker contenders (alongside Kentucky) on the two most technical events, Bars — and a traditional Tide nemesis, the Vault. Blanco may be the superstar, but there is a lot of quality between No. 2 and No. 10 on the team. Still, the weaknesses on those technical event probably preclude the Tide from winning it all. A Top 3 finish would be a great meet.
It really will depend on scoring here.
The Tigers get dragged along by Suni Lee, but 1-3 are good enough to put the ‘Barn in contention. LSU feeds off of crowd energy, and the SECs are a big stage. Away from Baton Rouge will they get that? Their abilities on Vault already help them along. Alabama and Kentucky can shock, but there are just too many structural weaknesses on technical events in a competition that tends to be scored lower. While that hurts Florida, who are always overscored, it perhaps hurts those two the most.
Florida is and remains the best bet here. But it won’t be a runaway; the SEC’s never are — and the Gators do have a history of coming out flat and unsteady here. Still, it’s the safest pick, though I’d put my money on LSU and Auburn to be right there with them at the end of the day.
Best of luck to the women, and Roll Tide.