Injuries keep Alabama gymnastics short of title defense

Nathan Brown, Contributing Writer

Alabama gymnastics finished second at the SEC championship in Birmingham with a score of 197.825. 

With their 11th SEC Championship, the Florida Gators broke the tie with the Crimson Tide for the second-most titles in conference history.

Entering as the lowest seed in Session II, Alabama was the defending champion. 

The Crimson Tide gained momentum from back-to-back 198-plus totals in the two meets before the championship, but the defending champs faced adversity throughout the night and couldn’t overcome the Gators’ historic night.

“Looking back on our performance, there was so much fight out there tonight,” head coach Dana Duckworth said. “I know you keep hearing that word from everybody, but we have really focused on the next second being more important.”

During warmups, Alabama lost senior Sania Mitchell due to an Achilles injury. Mitchell was a mainstay in the Crimson Tide’s floor exercise lineup. 

“The love these gymnasts have for each other is where that deep desire and passion comes from,” Duckworth said. “They continue to fight, and so I’m proud of them.”

Senior Shallon Olsen opened the night for the Crimson Tide with a strong 9.900 in the leadoff spot. 

Graduate student Lexi Graber scored a 9.925 and tied for third overall in the floor exercise competition. Alabama finished with 49.425 total in the opening rotation.

In the vault rotation, Alabama trailed Florida by a 0.50 margin. 

Graber and freshman Lilly Hudson scored 9.900 each. The Crimson Tide scored a 49.350 total in their second rotation, placing them firmly in second place halfway through the meet. 

Alabama trailed the Gators by .175 for first place heading into their uneven bars rotation. 

The third rotation was the Crimson Tide’s best of the night. Defending bars champions Shania Adams, Luisa Blanco and Makarri Doggette posted identical 9.950 scores to power a 49.675 total. 

The 49.675 tied the school record for uneven bars and kept Alabama’s hopes alive. Nonetheless, it would take another historic performance for a comeback. 

The Crimson Tide entered the final rotation trailing first place by .200, but the Gators led beginning to end. 

Alabama closed the night with a 49.375 on balance beam, led by a pair of 9.900 scores from Graber and junior Ella Burgess. 

The Crimson Tide were without the reliable contribution from Blanco after she sustained a lower leg injury during her dismount in the team’s final performance of the day. 

Florida’s Trinity Thomas led the way for the Gators and took home the all-around title, with a score of 39.825. Thomas also took the floor exercise, vault and balance beam titles. 

Auburn’s Suni Lee claimed the uneven bars title with a perfect 10.000 that brought the entire arena to its feet. 

Alabama’s Hudson finished fourth in the all-around with a 39.525 total.  

During the post-meet ceremony, senior Griffin James was recognized as a member of the 2022 SEC Community Service Team for her contributions to the Tuscaloosa community. 

With a second-place finish, the Crimson Tide continue their streak as the only program never to finish outside of the top four at the SEC championship.

The Crimson Tide will now await selection for the NCAA regional championship. The NCAA selection show will be Tuesday, March 22.