By: Garrett Franks
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – “Welcome home Ashely” posters adorned the walls of Coleman Coliseum. There was buzz in the air, as first-year Head Coach Ashely Johnston walked into the gym. Over 8,000 Crimson Tide fans packed the walls of the coliseum to see the 2023 installment of Alabama Gymnastics.
Johnston is no stranger to the University of Alabama, she was a two-time national champion under the legendary Coach Sarah Patterson.
The same university where she preformed at so many years ago–welcomed home one of their own.
“This feels like home to me,” said Johnston. “It’s a great feeling.”
Johnston has been successful no mater what the role has been, whether that was on the beam or off the the side as a coach. At her previous job she served as the associate head coach at Auburn University. During her time at Auburn, she trained the beloved American Olympian Suni Lee.
There was a sense of anxiousness amongst the crowd before the match. Much of it came from the unknown–the unknown of what first-year Head Coach Ashely Johnston would bring to the table. Once the match started, much of that worry went away.
You could see the emotions, not only on Coach Johnston’s face, but also in the performance of her team. Alabama fed off their coaches energy, as Coach Johnston didn’t shy away from cheering, clapping, and even dancing with her team.
Her team came out and showed a highly technical performance. The Tide had four seniors (Luisa Blanco, Mati Waligora, Makarri Dougette, and Shallon Olsen) on the line-up. It shows not only a strong base of high-level returners from the previous coaching staff, but a crop of young talent coming up the ranks.
Specifically true-freshman Gabby Gladieux showed a strong performance for a freshman scoring 9.900 on her floor routine. When asked after the match what it felt like, she couldn’t help but grin ear-to-ear.
“To come in and feel the energy of the crowd and the energy of my best friends besides me was quite literally a dream come true,” said Gladieux.
The Tide pulled away from the Spartans for a 196.975-196.500 victory, but the score seemed secondary to the excitement the team shared throughout. Even Coach Johnston wasn’t too focused on the result, she said in the post-game presser that how the “commitment to their approach” was more important than the outcome.
As the saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” The expectation this season might not be to win the NCAA Championship, but Alabama has a great mix of experience, youth, and most importantly swagger.
A new era is upon us here in Alabama Gymnastics. One that pays homage to it’s championship laced roots, yet wants to be uniquely Ashley Johnston’s.