By (Matthew Speakman)

Dana Duckworth remembers the night her career as an athlete came to a close. The last meet of her career was the 1993 National Championship.

Duckworth won an individual championship on the beam – the second of her career. After earning a 10.0 on beam, she went to floor. When she finished floor, the moment hit her. She said it was a feeling she had never experienced before.

“That last meet, it was complete and utter joy,” Duckworth said. “As a competitor, there was no thinking. It was absolute autopilot.”

Duckworth’s key to success that night was not anything technical. She relieved herself of the emotional pressure that surrounded her last meet. She felt free.

“I wouldn’t let myself think it was my last meet,” she said. “I would let myself go to ‘oh my goodness this is my last time ever.’ I don’t remember thinking that way at all. I remember saying I just want to enjoy the moment. That’s all I want to do is have fun.”

Alabama’s senior class will be in the same position as Duckworth was leading up to that meet in 1993. After finishing second at NCAA Championships, they will be looking to add to Alabama’s trophy case.

Through all of the emotion, this class wants to leave its own legacy.

“I’m just happy we even get to go,” senior Aja Sims said. “I just really want to hope that I leave the legacy that we persevered through this. Even though we’ve had a rough season, that we were the team that persevered through it all. Hopefully in the end, it proves all of the hard work that we’ve done.”

Sims has seen her senior class grow over the years. She said they were hungry from the moment they stepped in the gym.

“Honestly, my class freshman year, we were ready,” Sims said. “We knew why we were here. Especially like me and Keely [McNeer], who graduated school early to come. We were ready. We were here 
to win.”

Sims has been a powerhouse on floor this season for Alabama. She finished as a second-team all-American this year for the regular season. She also won a regional individual title in the event – where she was a last second replacement. She will have to calm herself before her routine just as she has all year. The stakes are high this time.

“For floor, I’m a lot more relaxed,” Sims said. “Me and Coach Bryan (Raschilla) on floor, he comes to me and we have a little handshake. He say to me, ‘have some fun. Go enjoy it. This is the fun part.’ That’s usually what I do. Deep breath then have 
some fun.”

Alabama heads into the NCAA Championships coming off of a shaky performance in regionals. The team has had an up-and-down year, but has always wanted to peak at the right time. After coming in second at regionals, the team wants to do that in the biggest meet of the year. They feel as if they haven’t reached their best score this season.

Overcoming the uncharacteristic performance will be tough, but Alabama still has a ceiling to reach. It feels like this team still has its best meet in its back pocket. They know they can correct their past mistakes.

“You just have to relax more and just go out there and trust your training,” sophomore Abby Armbrecht said. “…When we’re loose and having fun and just not stressed about everything and just going out there and pretending like it’s practice, that when we do our best.”

The first round of the meet will take place on Friday. Alabama will compete in the evening session of the first round with LSU, Nebraska, Florida, Michigan and Georgia. The top three teams will advance to the NCAA Super Six on Saturday.

With the potential for two meets in two days, the team is trying to stay focused on night one.

“The preliminaries is what gets you to the finals, so you gotta focus on that first and make sure you do your job there to advance,” junior Mackenzie Brannan said. “We have to make sure we have our best night that night as well.”

The first round of the NCAA Championship will take place at 8 p.m.. The meet can be viewed on ESPNU.

“We want a chance to compete in Super Six, but we definitely have to take it one step at a time,” Brannan said.

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Source:: The Crimson White Sports