Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Alabama gymnastics welcomes 4 returning seniors as fifth-years

CW/ Natalie Teat
Alabama gymnast Lilly Hudson performs her beam routine against LSU on Feb. 24, 2023, in Coleman Coliseum.

Although the incoming class of 2019 was honored at Senior Night last season, four Alabama gymnasts decided to join the 2024 roster as graduate students. The four returning gymnasts are Luisa Blanco, Ella Burgess, Makarri Doggette, and Mati Waligora.  

“I think each person had a different thought process but was trying to really be patient and let that answer reveal itself,” head coach Ashley Johnston said. “One by one each senior kind of asked to meet and we sat in my office and talked through things and it was really cool to see each one come to that decision on their own.”  

These four gymnasts truly bring something special to Team 50, whether that be advice, leadership or experience. Due to the pandemic that cut their freshman season short, injuries, and feeling that they left last season with “unfinished business,” the four feel they bring something special to the table to help the team in the best way possible. 

Makarri Doggette 

Although her rookie season was cut to only nine meets due to the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, she earned four uneven bars titles and one floor exercise title. As a freshman, she scored a 39.5 in her all-around debut against Missouri, which made her the first Crimson Tide freshman to post a 39.5 or better since Katie Bailey posted a 39.525 in the 2014 NCAA championships Super Six finals.  

In her 2021 season, she was the SEC uneven bars champion with a 9.95. She earned the first 10 on the uneven bars for an Alabama gymnast since 2002 at the NCAA Regionals and made the First-Team Championship All-American on the uneven bars.  

In 2022, she vaulted for the first time since her freshman year and earned the Crimson Tide’s highest score at Oklahoma with a 9.85, she earned her eighth consecutive score of 9.9 or higher  on the uneven bars, and earned Women’s Collegiate Gymnastics Association All-American regular season honors in the uneven bars.  

For her 2023 season, she scored a second career 10 on the uneven bars, was ranked No. 18 nationally in the category, earned five titles on the uneven bars, and earned three titles on the vault.  

“I think the experience that we have is special, and to be able to share that with everybody on our team, it means a lot to us because we were once them,” Doggette said. “So I’m glad that we get to be in this position to make a difference in their lives. It’s really special, and we’re excited to do so.” 

Mati Waligora 

Waligora earned the title of Scholastic All-American and SEC Academic Honor Roll all four years competing for the Crimson Tide. In her sophomore year, she won the balance team title against Kentucky in the season opener with a score of 9.925 — her first career routine on the balance beam. She competed on the vault and balance beam at the NCAA championships. Blanco also became a member of the Student-Athlete Committee at the University.  

In 2022, she competed in 33 routines for the Crimson Tide and made her all-around debut with a score of 39.175. She also received the Fern Hampton Academic Award. In her 2023 season, she competed on the uneven bars and floor exercise in all 13 meets for the Crimson Tide. At the SEC championships, and against LSU, she scored a season best of 9.9 on the uneven bars.  

I am forever grateful for my years here at Bama,” Waligora said. “I desired to come back for a fifth year because I knew Team 50 would be an amazing group of girls to push each other toward some unfinished business we left on the table last year.” 

Ella Burgess

As a freshman, Burgess competed on the vault and balance beam for the first time just two weeks after arriving in Tuscaloosa, and then competed on the vault at every meet of the shortened 2020 season.  

Her sophomore season was cut short due to an injury, and she earned the Crimson Tide’s Lewis Each Courage Award. When she came back to the mat her junior year, she competed on the balance beam for each meet of the season and was named a team captain alongside Emily Gaskins.  

“Our end goal is competing for championships, making it to the national championships and having the opportunity to compete for a title and ultimately winning that title,” Burgess said.  

Luisa Blanco 

As a freshman, Blanco started strong, winning three balance beam titles and two floor exercise titles. She was also named to the SEC All-Freshman team and was honored as the Newcomer of the Year at the Crimson Tide’s annual awards ceremony.  

In 2021, she won the NCAA Balance Beam at the national championships with a 9.9625. She also earned SEC Gymnast of the Year and First-Team Championship All-American in the all-around, uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise.  

While not as dominant as her sophomore year, she still finished her 2022 season ranked No. 8 nationally in the uneven bars and No. 9 in the balance beam. She earned All-SEC honors and First Team Championship All-American honors on the vault and balance beam at the NCAA championships.  

In her senior season, she finished second at the NCAA championships in the uneven bars with a 9.95. She was also named to the All-SEC team. On the balance beam, she scored a perfect 10 three times, giving her the most perfect scores in the event in program history. She ended her senior season ranked in the top 10 for balance beam, floor exercise and the all-around, and held a No. 1 ranking in the SEC on the balance beam.

In 2024, Blanco will make her Olympic debut at the 2024 Paris Olympics.  

“This program means absolutely everything to me, and more, but never did I think that I would come in here with a group of strangers from around the country and somehow find a sisterhood,” Blanco said. “The moments that you carry with you, like on the mat, but more especially off the mat are the ones that are going to stick with you forever.” 

The gymnasts are back in Coleman Coliseum for their home opener against Missouri on Friday at 6 p.m. 

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