Gymnastics travels to first road meet Friday night

Abby McCreary, Assistant Sports Editor

After a thrilling home opener last weekend, Alabama gymnastics is hitting the road for the first time this season. The No. 8 Crimson Tide will take on the No. 16 Arkansas Razorbacks in Fayetteville, Arkansas. 

“We’ve been putting in the work at practice,” graduate student Shallon Olsen said. “I’m excited for it to show this weekend, especially with Arkansas being one of our big competitors.” 

Head coach Ashley Johnston said that her team has practiced in adverse situations in order to prepare for meets like Friday’s — a rowdy Barnhill Arena filled with passionate fans of a conference opponent.  

“We’ve created ‘dice sets’ where we put gymnasts into a position to bet on themselves,” Ashley Johnston said. “They’ll have to do a quiet routine where the whole gym will have to stop and be silent as they go to compete. We’ll do loud routines where they’ll have to play an Arkansas fight song or something like that just to try and mimic the environment that they’ll be stepping into.”  

With both teams going into Barnhill Arena with a win under their belts, the need to come out on top of an SEC opponent will be present in each coach’s mind. The Razorbacks haven’t bested the Crimson Tide in a dual meet since 2017, but Arkansas has a young roster that is eager to make an impact. 

The Razorbacks’ four freshmen all competed in at least one event last weekend. UCLA transfer Norah Flatley also made an appearance, and despite the new faces, Arkansas was able to boast a dominant 196.225-195.000 win. However, none of the Razorback gymnasts competed in the all-around. 

Alabama, on the other hand, had three competitors in last weekend’s win against Michigan State, including a surprise appearance from senior Makarri Doggette and the winner of it all, senior Luisa Blanco. 

Johnston said that although her lineup can change any second, Olsen has continued to be a strong candidate for a roster spot. 

“Shallon is such a valuable contributor to this team,” Johnston said. “Gymnastically, she’s just a rock for Alabama and goes up there, does her job, does what is needed and has just been clutch over and over again.” 

Olsen has been a crucial part of the Alabama gymnastics program since her freshman year, when she was named an SEC All-Freshman. More recently, during her senior year she earned Second Team All-American honors in the vault.  

Johnston says that Olsen’s experience at the Olympics and in world championships is what truly sets her apart within the team.  

“Her leadership, her experience and her overall ability to step onto the biggest stage that gymnastics offers is valuable to us,” Johnston said. “She’s really done it all, so to have that type of experience to pour into our large freshman class is valuable to us.”  

Although not every Alabama freshman had the chance to compete Friday night, junior Cameron Machado said that these meets offer lots of learning opportunities.  

“We want to stay in a ‘Bama Bubble,’ so we don’t want to focus on the other teams as much,” Machado said. “I really want them to meet their own moments, step up to the plate, and do what they know how to do and not focus on all the distracting things. I’m super excited to see their first road meet.” 

The first event will begin Friday, Jan. 13, at 7:30 p.m. CT and will be aired on SEC Network. 

Questions or comments? Email Blake Byler (Sports Editor) at [email protected]