Gymnastics is set for the national semifinals

Robert Cortez | @robertcortez27, Assistant Sports Editor

It’s that time of the year.

No. 5 Alabama gymnastics will compete in the 2022 NCAA national championships in Fort Worth, Texas. This is the Crimson Tide’s 38th appearance.

“I’m just really excited to go back out there one last time with this group of girls,” graduate student Lexi Graber said. “They’re a really special group of women and we’ve worked really hard for this.”

“Team 48” secured its berth to the national championship semifinals after scoring a 198.175, which was good for a second-place finish, on day two of the Seattle regional. Graber is looking forward to ending her collegiate career with a chance to bring the program its seventh national championship with a team that has worked toward this opportunity.

Alabama advanced to Dickies Arena come Thursday afternoon because of its ability to “embrace every challenge as an opportunity,” according to Graber. She believes the trials the Crimson Tide have faced have made them an extremely mentally tough team, which will only help them in Fort Worth.

Alabama is in the afternoon session and will compete against No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 4 Utah and No. 7 Minnesota. Alabama head coach Dana Duckworth doesn’t want her squad to focus on outcompeting the other teams. Duckworth wants her team to focus on what it can control, which is staying in the moment and competing freely.

“We’re going to go in there and we’re only going to compete against Alabama so that we can be the best team possible and then let the outcomes take care of themselves with a great deal of belief,” Duckworth said. “They talk about when they do their best is when they’re free and they have fun.”

Despite this being junior Ella Burgess’ second trip to the national championships, it will be her first time competing. Burgess cheered her team on from the sidelines last year due to injury. The opportunity to now help her team by competing brought a smile to her face.

“Finally, as a junior and still never competing at a national championship, it’s kind of just been something that I’ve wanted to do,” Burgess said. “Finally being down there with my team and getting to contribute is really exciting.”

The balance beam, a make-or-break event, has been nothing short of great for the Crimson Tide as they rank No. 5 on the apparatus. A large part of this is due to Burgess’ ability to lead the rotation off with a solid score. The junior has a season average of 9.819 on the balance beam, has posted a score of 9.90, or better, in seven consecutive meets and eight times on the season.

Burgess contributed this success to a superstitious pre-routine regimen.

“I’m kind of superstitious, so I literally do the same thing every single time,” Burgess said. “I walk up to the beam, I have my teammate Lily come and she says the same words to me every time. Then I say something to myself. Then I turn around, Dana’s there, she says the same thing to me every time and that just grounds me and I’m ready to go.”

Alabama has scored a 198 on three occasions this season and Graber believes they can still be better. According to Duckworth, it’s all about “putting the puzzle pieces together.” Alabama’s season highs are 49.500 on the vault, 49.675 on the uneven bars, 49.650 balance beam and 49.700 on the floor exercise. Duckworth wants all these season-high scores to be posted in one meet.

“Week after week, you’ve seen advantages and success in different areas,” Duckworth said. “So what that means to me is the puzzle pieces are all coming together. And the goal when you get to the championship is to be the most consistent and on that very night be at your best. The goal is to put all [four events] together on Thursday.”

Alabama will open up its semifinals appearance on the uneven bars, followed by the balance beam and floor exercise, and then will close out the meet on the vault. The meet is scheduled to begin at noon CT and will be televised on ESPN2.

Questions? Email the sports desk at [email protected].