Gymnastics readies for conference finals

Abby McCreary, Assistant Sports Editor

This weekend, the Alabama gymnastics program competes in the SEC Championship attempting to defend a very important honor — Alabama is the only team to have never finished outside the top four in the history of the competition.  

In its past five appearances, the Crimson Tide has brought home two third-place finishes, two second place and one title in 2021.  

Sophomore Lilly Hudson said she has heard a lot about the 2021 SEC Championship from many of the upperclassmen. 

“It was the best day of their lives,” Hudson said. “But we’re not really focusing on the past. They say let’s stay in the process and take it one day at a time and just focus on getting better every day so we can really show off what we’ve worked for.”  

This year, Alabama has stayed at the top of the conference and national rankings week after week. Now No. 10 in the nation, the Crimson Tide was ranked as high as No. 8 and peaked midseason at the Metroplex Challenge with a season-high 198. Since then, the team has struggled to hit 198 again and has suffered unfortunate losses to LSU and Missouri.  

Head coach Ashley Johnston said the overall process is more important than her team’s recent performances. 

“These past two weeks haven’t gone exactly the way we wanted them to go for a variety of reasons,” Johnston said. “But one of the biggest wins in my book is that we are healthy and we have a full team that is ready to go this weekend.” 

As the No. 4 seed, Alabama will compete in Session II alongside Florida, LSU and Kentucky. The Crimson Tide will start on the beam before rotating to the floor, vault and then bars.  

Although Alabama is coming off one of their lowest beam scores of the season, Hudson said the team is excited for the event this weekend.  

“We’re so ready to start on beam,” Hudson said. “The whole team loves beam. Scores are going to change every week — it’s a four-inch beam so it’ll change all the time, but we’re ready. We’ve been training for this, so we’re excited.”  

Hudson is one of two gymnasts to score a perfect score on the beam this year. The other, senior Luisa Blanco, has managed to achieve three 10s on the beam this season, including one right after Hudson’s in the LSU meet. Together, they lead one of the best beam lineups in the nation, currently standing at No. 8.  

Johnston said that because her team has done so well on the beam this season, it will help them start strong, which has been a priority in the second half of the season. 

“I think we carry a very aggressive mindset on the beam and have done so week after week after week,” head coach Ashley Johnston said. “Starting on beam will be a better fit for us and that ‘starting strong’ mentality.”  

Another crucial member of the beam lineup, freshman Rachel Rybicki, said the most important thing this weekend will be for the Crimson Tide to be united from the first rotation to the last.  

“We just want to be one, work as one, be a whole unit all together,” Rybicki said. “When we are all in the same mindset, in the same zone, that’s when things start to click and we get our best results.”  

Alabama will compete in Session II of the SEC Championship Saturday, March 18, at 7 p.m. CT at the Gas South Arena in Duluth, Georgia. The competition will air on SEC Network. 

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