Alabama ready to earn bragging rights at SEC ChampionshipBy Matthew Speakman | 03/18/2017 12:03pm
Alabama gymnastics has stressed the importance of one thing all season: peaking at the right time. Meet after meet, the team has tried to improve to prepare for postseason.
On Saturday, Alabama will compete for a conference title in Jacksonville, Fla. and look to finally put together the big scores it has wanted to all year.
“I’m just so ready. I think everyone is ready. We’re all ready,” said junior Nickie Guerrero. “We do best when we feel like we have nothing to lose. I feel like we’re going to go in there feeling like we have nothing to lose. I’m ready for this team to go all out.”
Once postseason hits, Alabama starts to adopt a different mindset. Regular season meets are all about preparing for postseason. The team wants to post big scores, but also wants to make sure certain gymnasts get their rest.
Now that the SEC Championship is here, Alabama feels like it can go all out without worrying about anything else.
“Once we get into postseason, we just leave it all out there,” Guerrero said. “I think that’s what has really contributed to it. When we have fun and we just be free, it’s crazy how good we are. It’s insane. We do it practice all of the time. I feel like we just need that postseason freeness.”
Alabama has had its share of ups and downs this year. The team has struggled against lesser teams, while performing well on big stages.
This season, Alabama has consistently been the third best team in the SEC behind LSU and Florida. The Crimson Tide has a regional qualifying score (RQS) of 196.923.
Head coach Dana Duckworth says this meet is favorite of the year.
“It is about the bling,” she said. “It is about bragging rights. Yes, you can use it as an away score to add to your RQS, but it is the funnest meet of the year, because really, you just go out there and do your job.
One of Alabama’s freshman, Maddie Desch, has been a consistent force for the Crimson Tide all season. She ranks in the top 20 on the floor exercise, and recently posted a career-best 9.9 on the vault against Iowa State.
For her, the SEC Championship is both a new experience and not. She was an elite gymnast, and many of the meets are similar environments. Alabama has multiple freshman like Desch in their lineup, and they will all need to step up.
“I’ve already taken on a whole different mentality,” Desch said. “It’s so much different to compete with a team behind you and for them to all have your back. I think the atmosphere with all the girls will be similar. I have so much fun with this team.”
One thing the freshmen will have to get used to is the atmosphere. The atmosphere for SEC Championships is unique. Alabama has competed in tough, road environments this season, but this meet is a different beast. Everyone is looking to bring home a conference title in front of many different fan bases.
The atmosphere can tough to overcome, but senior Aja Sims says the team does not focus on that.
“We’re focused on us. I just know it’s going to be fun,” Sims said. “It’s going to be competitive. We want it that way. It just shows how good everyone is in the SEC and really working for it and being winners in the end, it’s going to prove how hard we’ve worked all season.”
Alabama will compete in the SEC Championship at 5 p.m. CT.