At Alabama, it’s rare we celebrate moral victories, particularly in a sport where the Crimson Tide have been a decades-long blue blood. But, on Saturday night, as the Tide Gymnasts were kicking ass across the mats in Duluth en route to a Runner-Up finish at SEC Championships, you can’t help but feel as though this was mission accomplished in Year One for Coach Ashley Priess-Johnston.
The second-place finish was not only a bit of a surprise, it’s frankly what everyone else in the country would have been competing for a night where the Florida Gators posted an absurd 198.350, the third highest meet total of the year for anyone in the country, and the highest posted by any team on Championship Saturday.
Florida and Oklahoma have been the best teams in the nation all season, but what we saw on Saturday shows that coaching matters, and with the right athletes, the window between that pair is not as vast as it has seemed at times over the previous few years. Coach Ashley got every bit of mileage out of the roster she has on hand, and it did when it mattered most — on the big stage. The Tide’s 197.925 was tied for its second-highest meet total of the year, and impressively was done without a single competitor netting a perfect 10.0.
Individually, three ladies won medals on four separate events:
Lilly Hudson on Floor; Luisa Blanco on Balance Beam and Uneven Bars; and stellar Freshman Gabby Gladieux brought home the gold as the SEC Co-Champion on Vault. Those silver medalists? The only way they could have been topped was with perfect 10s, which Gator athletes posted.
I don’t think any one wants to celebrate Silver, but Alabama came into the night ranked No. 10 in the country and coming off of two meets that were not quite their best. They were just 4th in the SEC, and had seen teams like Auburn and Kentucky press them in a sport that the Tide had helped popularize down here in football country.
Most had projected ‘Bama to finish anywhere between 3rd and 5th: 2nd would have been not overachieving, but maximizing every ounce of talent on-hand on every event. And they did.
So, yes, celebrate that Silver medal finish; celebrate the runners-up medals on individual events. No one thought this team would be here in late January, much less that it would look so dominant down the stretch.
The Tide are peaking at just the right moment too, with NCAA Regionals beginning next week. And anything can happen with the right coaching.
And nearing the end of Year One, it looks like Alabama may have found a very good one.