By (Matthew Speakman)

Facing two teams in three days is not easy. When Alabama has to travel to Arkansas for a meet, then immediately head back to Birmingham, Alabama to face off against Auburn, fatigue can set in.

Junior Nickie Guerrero believes Alabama is prepared to handle the tough weekend.

“You go through them one at a time,” she said. “You don’t want to think about having two meets. You want to tackle one, get the recovery and then tackle the next one.”

It’s been nearly two years since Alabama gymnastics traveled to a road meet and then quickly turned around to face Auburn. In 2015, the team went to Columbia, Missouri on Friday, then made the long trip back to Alabama to participate in a meet on Sunday.

On Friday, it will do this once again, facing No. 23 Arkansas on the road, then battling against No. 16 Auburn two days later.

Head coach Dana Duckworth has done all she can to prepare the team for the challenges that it will face this weekend. She said preparing for two meets will help this team in the long run.

“It’s taxing on the body,” Duckworth said. “Mentally, you want get ready for two nights, because hopefully, God willing, we will be at the National Championship competing two nights in a row. So, you don’t really worry about it; you just plan for it and see how things work and use it to build your endurance.”

With two meets in one weekend, injuries can be a problem. A team may not be able to use the same gymnasts for each event because of the threat of them getting hurt.

As the team prepares in the gym for the long weekend, Guerrero says the team attacks practice in a different way.

“We do less numbers in the gym,” Guerrero said. “It’s more quality over quantity. Especially this week and then having Florida at home the other week. It’s just really making sure we take care of what we need to do inside and outside the gym and making every turn count.”

The Arkansas meet will be a typical road battle for Alabama on a standard surface. On Sunday, however, the team will perform on podium for the first time this season. Podium is a raised surface, and is typically only used in the SEC and NCAA Championship meets.

Freshman Shea Mahoney is ready to experience what it is like to perform in a podium meet.

“The equipment is going to feel a little different,” Mahoney said. “…Mentally, it’s like this is a big stage and it’s something that you’ve seen NCAA Super Six on. Getting to compete on [podium] for the first time will be really cool.”

Facing Auburn comes with the passion of a rivalry. In years past, Alabama was looking to preserve a streak that exceeded 100-straight wins against the Tigers. Now, it is about building a new streak.

Mahoney, who hails from Algonquin, Illinois, wants to take advantage of her first meet against the team’s arch-rival.

“You hear so much about Auburn and Alabama,” Mahoney said. “I know a couple of girls on the Auburn team. I’m just ready to go and be with the team and show Auburn what we are made of.”

One looming challenge facing the team is finding a new leadoff for three events— vault, uneven bars and balance beam. Senior Keely McNeer has done this in every meet this season. When the team faces Arkansas, it will use multiple different gymnasts in the leadoff spots to preserve McNeer’s endurance.

Duckworth has been experimenting with different lineups all season, but Friday’s meet could give them new looks for the future.

“We need some people that know they can leadoff,” Duckworth said. “There’s also in my mind that we need to prepare for next year in a sense, too, of getting people some experience to see how they handle it.”

Alabama’s meet against Arkansas will take place on Jan. 27 at 7:30 p.m. on the SEC Network. The meet against will start at 4 pm. and will also be broadcasted on SEC Network.

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Source:: The Crimson White Sports