By (Matthew Speakman)

BIRMINGHAM- Alabama was in trouble. Heading into the final rotation, the team needed a miracle to overcome almost an entire point (0.8) deficit against Auburn. Then, the team busted off its best floor exercise of the season, capped off by a career-high 9.975 by senior Aja Sims.

In a routine full of flair, Sims said she could feel the happiness come over her before she was finished.

“This is probably one of my favorite floor routines I’ve had since I’ve been here at Alabama,” Sims said. “I choreographed some of it, so it’s got a lot of personality in it. It’s just a lot of fun and it brings out the crowd. I love that when they come out and help me finish my routine strong.”

Sims was shown a perfect 10 by one of the judges- the first time Alabama has been shown a 10 in any event this season. After Auburn suffered three breaks on balance beam, Alabama took advantage, posting its best team score on the floor this year (49.575).

No. 5 Alabama’s floor exercise brought an unmatched energy to the crowd in its 195.850-194.675 victory over No. 16 Auburn.

“Going into the last event, we just wanted to put it all out there,” Sims said. “Dana [Duckworth] just told us to keep fighting, and we could bring it home. So, that’s what we did.”

Setbacks hurt Alabama early. After posting a 49.2 on the vault, The Crimson Tide suffered three breaks on the uneven bars leading to a 47.850. The team fell behind by an entire point after the second rotation, and two of three falls came from two of the team’s leaders- Sims and junior Kiana Winston.

With early mistakes hurting the Crimson Tide, head coach Dana Duckworth wanted to keep the team calm and take it one event at a time.

“After we fell, I held the girls together and I just said ‘we are going to go to the two best events of the night right now,’” Duckworth said. “It is not how you start, it is how you finish.”

Both Sims and Winston were able to bounce back in later events. Along with Sims’ 9.975 on the floor, Winston posted a 9.95 in the event directly after winning the balance beam with a 9.925. Duckworth knew both of them could come back after their uncharacteristic setbacks.

“The next second is more important, and that is an example of what they did,” she said. “They let it go, because what happened, happened, and you just have to focus on the next thing. The quicker you do that, the quicker you adjust.”

The combination of a strong showing on the balance beam (49.225) and the electrifying floor rotation was key for Alabama. Winston and Sims closed out strong, but the first three gymnasts laid the foundations for a strong score.

Freshman Maddie Desch fell in the team’s meet with Arkansas, so, she wanted to come back strong. She earned a 9.9 for Alabama, and helped them seal the comeback victory.

“It [falling against Arkansas] did put a little damper on my confidence, but I really had great support from my teammates and my coaches because they know what I’m capable of,” Desch said. “I think tonight, I really got a chance to show that.”

Winston and Sims were not the only Alabama gymnasts to take home individual honors in events. Senior Katie Bailey scored a 9.25 in the vault to win the event. Alabama won three of the four individual titles, but still, it was a struggle to pick up the win.

With so many ups and downs throughout the event, Duckworth knew that tonight could have gone either way.

“It could’ve been anyone’s meet tonight, and it happened to be ours,” Duckworth said. “I’m very grateful for how we just kept fighting.”

Alabama has had big performances in every event this season, but putting them together on the same night has yet to happen. When the team faces Florida in its Power of Pink meet on Feb. 3, Duckworth hopes to have a strong, all-around meet.

‘We have all four events, we just have to put them together on the same night,” she said. “My hopes are that we will use this to fuel us.”

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Source:: The Crimson White Sports