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Built Different: No. 6 ‘Bama Gymnasts snap Florida’s five-year-long home winning streak

This iteration of Alabama Gymnastics doesn’t at all feel like previous years

EDIT: Added a clip of the meet below, if you didn’t get to watch the event live — EJE

We have become accustomed to slow starts with the Crimson Tide gymnastics squad. Ordinarily, it would take Coach Duckworth a few weeks to sort out a rotation, and it was generally a full month before ‘Bama even posted a 197 or higher.

When new coach Ashley Priess-Johnston arrived last year, it seemed like the Tide was facing a continuity regime. There were certainly struggles, especially early. But, as the season wore on, the Tide began improving. It logged its first 197+ in the fourth meet, flirted with 198 the next, and then hit the coveted 198.000 mark in the season’s next meet.

This year, however, has been vastly different. There have been no real slow starts.

The Tide began its season on the road in Las Vegas, against a crowded field in a quad meet with No. 2 Cal, No. 13 UCLA and No. 15 Auburn. The Tide finished behind only the Golden Bears, and came out of the gate strong (for a traditionally slow-starting club), posting a 197.1250. The next week, ‘Bama would face the No. 9 Missouri Tigers at home...and they saw that score creep up, to 197.2250, as they staked themselves to a home win. Then, the following week, the Tide faced an outstanding and rapidly-rebuilt No. 7 Arkansas squad...and again won, this time in Fayetteville, and also saw their score nudge higher, to 197.5250.

That takes us to Friday, as the No. 6 Tide was undefeated, but traveling to Gainesville to face the No. 8 Florida Gators. Long-time Gym observers know that there are two buildings in the country where the home team is good for a third-of-a-point bump simply by virtue of being at home: Baton Rouge and Gainesville.

It was a tall task for sure. And a loss to the perennially-overscored Gators is nothing to hang your head about.

But, what happens if the visitors won’t play along?

Then you get what we saw last night, as the Crimson Tide led through three of four rotations, scored nine season-high rotations,bagged a perfect 10 from Lilly Hudson on Vault, found two season-highs from Olympian Luisa Blanco...and then beat Florida in their house.

And, for good measure, the Tide swept the podium.

And, yes, once again improved their score.

The victory snapped a five-year-long, 20-meet home winning streak for the Gators. And, a win is nothing to scoff at either. Since the Pattersons retired, Alabama has been somewhat dominated by UF — entering the night with a 4-14 record post-Sarah, and having just one regular season victory over Gata.

This kind of win is something to hang your hat on, and Coach APJ really summed it up well:

“I’m so proud of the team tonight. This was a really important meet for us because it’s easy to get to a meet like this and try to be perfect, and I’m really proud of the way that the team focused on just making progress. Progress over perfection. We’ve worked really hard on our culture and trusting each other and not letting one little mistake affect the approach of the next person up. I felt like the team really settled into that tonight. Even if there wasn’t a perfect performance (by an athlete), they didn’t let it get the best of them. They continue to just trust their average, where they weren’t trying harder. They weren’t trying to do anything different. They just trusted their preparation and executed at a really high level.”

And that leads us to a larger point. This team just feels different. It’s built different.

Talent is there, certainly. You can point to the Super Senior quad squad — Luisa Blanco, Ella Burgess, Makarri Doggette, and Mati Waligora, with Blanco being on the very short list of the best in the country (she out-dueled Florida superstar and Olympic hopeful Leanne Wong tonight). You can look to star Junior Lilly Hudson, to a one-time freshman-phenom who is now emerging a star all-arounder, in Gabby Gladieux. And there’s plenty more firepower on the bench, including the nation’s No. 1 recruit.

So what’s changed? It does really seem to be about culture, about leadership, about trust, and ultimately about consistency and consistent improvement. They seem to actually be having fun. And that leadership and culture doesn’t just come from the Super Seniors; it has come from the coaching staff as well. After about 15 meets, Coach Johnston has been a success, and is rapidly moving towards “unqualified success.”

The morale of this program could not be higher...nor could its ceiling: the scary part here is that the Tide still has tons of room to improve (it is just 16th on Floor, for instance). If the right cards fall, and if the team makes that consistent improvement, then once again Alabama is a legitimate national title contender (even if we are all seeming to just chase Oklahoma on their coronation tour).

The conference is a rugged one (six SEC teams are in the Top 10), and the road is long — Alabama hosts No. 4 Kentucky next week, then travels to No. 15 Auburn the week after, as well as hits the road to face No. 3 LSU in Baton Rouge and No. 1 Oklahoma in Norman — but it’s going to be a fascinating journey, and it’s one I’m delighted to take with them.

Roll Tide

No idea how long the SEC Copyright Snitches will allow this to remain up, but here is the complete broadcast of Alabama’s 197.5750 road victory. Watch it while you can!