By (Terrin Waack)

The Alabama gymnastics team has not cracked into the top three since its first meet against UCLA. It started its season at No. 3, but after that first loss, it quickly fell to No. 6. Since then, it’s wavered back and forth between a spot or two until anchoring itself in at No. 4, where it has remained since the start of February.

Alabama holds an average score of 196.959 and a high of 197.525.

“It’s not that we haven’t had a spark; it’s just timing,” said coach Dana Duckworth. “It’s the process. You have to allow things in your season to unfold as you’re developing the team. As coaches you have a strategy – you have a plan. You execute the plan the best you possibly can, but you’re always tweaking because your environment and your situation are always changing.”

Part of Duckworth’s plan is preparing her team for postseason, and the SEC Championships are just under a month away. This weekend will help do just that.

Alabama has faced two double-meet weekends, but for the first time this season, it’ll compete on a Saturday for a quad meet, featuring Penn State, Denver and Cornell.

“In postseasons, we’ll see anywhere from four to six teams at a time, so it’ll be helpful for us to be in that environment before,” said junior Mackenzie Valentin.

Valentin holds a season-high floor exercise score of 9.850, which she scored against Arkansas and Kentucky. She also competed against Missouri this season. Her career-best on the floor exercise is a 9.900.

During this weekend’s meet, a lot will be going on all at once. While Alabama competes on one event this week, it will not be alone. Its opponents will be competing on other events simultaneously. The Crimson Tide plans to focus on zoning out its competition.

“I think this weekend we’re all just going in trying to stay in our Bama bubble, so staying within the team and giving one heart and all of our energy to the one person that’s out there for us,” Valentin said.

Rather than thinking about it as a possible distraction, Duckworth loves that there’s going to be more than one event going on all at once because it’ll give the team an idea of how to handle an environment like that, especially with the upcoming SEC Championships.

While Alabama is competing on the balance beam this weekend, there will be another team active on the floor exercise. Because of this, there will be music playing to accompany the floor routines, which Duckworth said can be really loud and obnoxious while trying to perform a balance beam routine, but at the same time it’s wonderful because it forces the team to focus on itself, eliminating any and all distractions.

“I love that, if the rankings stay the way they are, that’s our order at SEC, so what an opportunity to go in and rehearse,” Duckworth said. “Practice, drill and rehearse.”

Alabama currently holds the nation’s highest balance beam score with a 49.550, despite the fact that beam has been an inconsistent sore spot.

This season has trained Alabama to let go of its past. It’s split its meets so far this season, with an overall 4-4 record. Gymnasts have fallen off the balance beam, the team lost to Auburn for the first time in 36-plus years, and senior Carley Sims was unable to compete due to an injury, but the team has moved on from each hiccup.

“We’ve been talking about adaptability this week, and it goes along with true mental toughness,” Valentin said. “No matter what happens, we call it ice cold veins. You have to be ready to adapt, to change, to do whatever it takes to make this team successful.”

Duckworth also plans to use this weekend as a guideline. She has a lineup in mind for this weekend. It could change before the meet starts, but it’ll also give her an idea of what lineup she’d like to use for the SEC Championships.

“I think this team has grown a lot in embracing the idea that the next second is more important than the last, staying completely in the present, no matter what happens,” Valentin said.

This weekend’s quad meet is just another step forward, toward its postseason goals.

“I want them to visualize that the Penn State meet is SECs,” Duckworth said. “It’s just as important. Why not rehearse it?”

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Source:: The Crimson White Sports