Sticking the landing: Seniors close out Coleman Coliseum, now seek championshipBy Terrin Waack | 04/04/2016 5:40pm
The Alabama gymnastics advanced to the 34th consecutive NCAA championship. CW | Grant Nicholls
Competing on its home turf, the Crimson Tide claimed first place at the NCAA Tuscaloosa Regional meet, scoring a 197.125 and advancing to the NCAA Championships. Alabama now holds an NCAA-best 31 regional titles and has won 12 in a row.
Although there wasn’t a perfect-10 score, there were two 10s awarded by individual floor-exercise judges. As Alabama’s final two competitors for the event, Beers earned the first 10 and Sims earned the second 10, anchoring for the Crimson Tide.
Beers scored a 9.95 and Sims scored a 9.9.
They’ll head to Fort Worth, Texas, on April 15 for semifinals. Soon, the two will have to retire their crimson and white leotards.
“As they come to the end of their gymnastics career, I just want them to be free,” Alabama coach Dana Duckworth said. “I want them to enjoy. I want them to enjoy the moments with this team. I don’t want them to be worried about putting the bow on top of their senior year of perfect, because it ain’t happening.”
The final season
Beers and Sims both had a less-than-ideal regular season for their final year. Beers has faced four falls on the balance beam and a break on the uneven bars, while Sims had to sit out six meets at the beginning of the season due to an ankle injury that ended up requiring surgery.
But they overcame the adversity together.
“Being only the two of us, I think we have a lot different relationship than other classes do just because we can be so close,” Beers said. “I know she’s had a huge impact on me, and I’m definitely thankful for the past four years we’ve had together.”
Except for the few blemishes here and there, the two normally post high scores, like they did on Saturday. They also share the same favorite event – the floor exercise – where Sims anchors, holding a career-high 9.950, and Beers performs right before her with a career-high 9.975.
Regardless of the competitive similarities, Beers and Sims are on different ends of the spectrum personality wise. Duckworth called them night and day.
“As you talk to them, you can tell – completely polar opposites,” she said. “But you know how they say a perfect relationship is opposites attract? They need each other, and they do well [together].”
Beers said she is a quiet introvert, while Sims is a loud extrovert. She finds it funny that they’re so different, but she wouldn’t have it any other way.
The contrast in personalities compliment one another, creating a diverse senior leadership for the team.
“They are both different examples, but they are both examples of hard work; they’re both examples of people that understand intensity and take it and run with it,” Duckworth said. “Carley [Sims] takes it to Carley world, and Lauren [Beers] focuses very hard. It works, it’s instrumental, and it’s wonderful that these two are our seniors this year.”
The mama bear
Out of the two, Beers is the more cool, calm and collected senior. Normally referred to as Alabama’s “Mama Bear,” the team relies on Beers, trusting her whole-heartedly.
Sophomores Mackenzie Brannan and Kiana Winston said Beers is the person they go to for comfort and reassurance, someone to tell them everything is going to be OK. They know they can talk to her about anything, and she’ll be there with open ears and a kind heart.
“My freshman year, I can just remember coming in and she was just already there, like she was there for anything I needed and I knew I could go to her,” Brannan said. “She’s definitely just put an arm around me, taken me in, and I think that’s a great quality of hers and makes her such a great leader.”
Over the course of the season, select Alabama gymnasts have stepped up and claimed specific events to speak before. Beers is the center of attention before the Crimson Tide competes on the vault, and rightly so, since she knocked out a perfect-10 against Georgia on the apparatus, marking Alabama’s first and only perfect-10 this season.
Her mama-bear instincts kick in and she refocuses her team, regardless if she or a teammate has faced a hiccup during the previous event.
Beers knows she can be a perfectionist at times. She has been working on getting away from that mentality and instead, is focusing on simply enjoying her last season at Alabama, which is all Duckworth and the rest of the team want for her.
“Be a mama bear, but don’t feel like you need to bear the weight of the world on your shoulders because you can’t,” Duckworth said. “When you go into the next chapter of your life, you can’t then either.”
Duckworth believes Beers is starting to learn and accept that mindset.
Beers has shown her coaches a great amount of humility throughout the season, but more importantly, a large amount of personal development and confidence.
Putting her up-and-down season plagued with falls behind her, Duckworth believes Beers is in a better place now and has changed her mindset from thinking, “I have to do this” to “I get to do this,” and that has made all the difference in her preparation and competition.
“Lauren has always been really good at anything she’s ever done,” Duckworth said. “Her biggest enemy has always been herself.”
On March 28, Beers earned second-team All-American honors on the vault, but four days before that announcement, she received another honor. She was named the SEC Gymnastics Scholar-Athlete of the Year, marking the sixth Alabama gymnast to do so.
As a three-time Scholastic All-American, Beers completed her undergraduate degree in exercise science in three years, and she did so with a perfect 4.0 GPA.
Now, she is pursuing a master’s degree in sports management.
“The past four years have flown by,” Beers said. “Junior year, you’re like, ‘Oh, it’s not that bad. I still have one year left,’ and then senior year, you’re like, ‘Oh my goodness, it’s done.’ ”
The big personality
On the flip side is Sims, the loudest and most energetic person on the team.
Sims said she has a big personality, and it takes more than one person to equal her. She believes junior Mary Lillian Sanders rivals her dancing, junior Amanda Jetter is just as outspoken, junior Katie Bailey equals her sass, and junior Mackenzie Valentin has her brains.
“We don’t have as many big personalities as we did before, so I just think mine sticks out more because it’s so drastically different from the other girls on the team,” Sims said. “I just think maybe over the years, some of the freshmen or sophomores are going to become probably even more bold than I am or outspoken.”
Sims sees her personality and energy rubbing off on her teammates. She expects to come back after graduating and see the team still dancing in the locker room, as if she never left.
However, Sims wasn’t always this way. Her positivity among the team grew over time. Duckworth said during Sims’ first two years, she didn’t fully understand how the system worked and didn’t totally buy into the process, but as soon as she did, she has continued to excel, regardless of some inactivity her senior year.
Sims hit a roadblock after Alabama’s first meet this season. She had surgery on her ankle, prohibiting her from competing a majority of the season, but she reclaimed her spot in the lineup on Feb. 20 at the Penn State quad meet. She has competed in every meet since.
“If I said we got out Carley back, would that make sense?” Duckworth said. “Carley has a really strong personality. Carley is Carley.”
Although Sims kept her normal up-beat attitude while sidelined, being back has her celebrating and dancing like there’s no tomorrow, but she knows when to calm down and be serious. When it’s time for her to compete, Duckworth said she has laser focus.
Brannan said the team can learn from Sims – be relaxed and fun when off, focused and serious when on.
But Sims isn’t an average lead-by-example teammate. She’ll get involved and step in for the betterment of the team and for her teammates as individuals.
“She brings out the fun and light side of me because I can get intense with myself and really overthink things,” Winston said. “She’ll really just let me know, ‘Hey, just have fun with it and do you,’ because that’s really when we all strive the most, when we have fun with everything.”
Sims has also helped her fellow senior evolve over the course of their four years together too. Beers said because of Sims, she is more outgoing and more outspoken than she was when she first arrived at Alabama.
While Beers takes over before Alabama competes on the vault, Sims has her moment before the floor exercise, her favorite event. She is at home and happiest when she is competing on the floor exercise.
Although she’ll be gone after this season, Sims will never be forgotten – nor will she be replaced.
“There will never be another Carley; there can’t be,” Duckworth said.