After flashing down the runway to open the meet and soaring through her vault to hit her landing, sophomore Keely McNeer scored a 9.85 and Dana Duckworth’s tenure as head coach of the Alabama gymnastics team was officially underway.
When it was all over, in the media room in her first post-meet press conference as the Tide’s leader, she took in a deep breath, let it out and grinned, saying “That was fun.”
Duckworth, who was elevated to the program’s top spot after Sarah and David Patterson retired from coaching in July after 36 years at the Tide’s helm, earned her first head coaching victory when No. 4 Alabama beat visiting Pac 12 rival No. 21 Arizona 196.225-194.375. The former Alabama gymnast, volunteer coach and assistant coach is in her 20th season as a member of the Crimson Tide program.
“I felt really comfortable,” Duckworth said of her debut. “It was interesting, on the floor exercise we had an intended line-up and based on how we warmed up we felt like we should make some changes here and there - because the month of January is about being safe and making good choices to stay healthy. We asked Katie Bailey to make a switch at the last minute and we popped someone else in and it worked out well. That was new for me because I’ve never been in that position to be able to make that choice. We made a quick decision and it was the right one.”
Sophomore Katie Bailey, ,who led off the Tide’s uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise lineup, won the all-around with a score of 39.375. Senior Kaitlyn Clark won the vault (9.95) while junior Lauren Beers and sophomore Aja Sims tied for top honors on the uneven bars (9.875). Senior Lora Leigh Frost won the floor exercise, closing out the Tide’s lineup and the meet, with a 9.925.
Alabama opened the meet with a 49.375 on the vault led by Clark’s 9.95 and 9.875s from Bailey and senior Kayla Williams. It was Williams’ first routine in competition since the 2013 NCAA Championships. She sat out last year after suffering a season-ending injury while warming up for the first meet of 2014.
On the uneven bars, the Tide was led by 9.875s from Beers and Sims, but a pair of falls pulled the team score down to 48.500, giving Alabama a slim .175 lead, 97.875-97.700, going into the second half of the meet.
Aja Sims’ 9.9 on the balance beam and 9.85s from Bailey and Beers paced Alabama to a solid 49.050 on the balance beam while a 9.925 from Frost and 9.875s from freshman Mackenzie Brannan and junior Carley Sims resulted in a 49.300 on the floor exercise.
“I would say it was pretty much everything I thought it was going to be and more,” Duckworth said. “But I didn’t know where to stand when we went to the floor exercise. I sat behind the music for 15 years and I thought to myself ‘I don’t really know where to stand.’ But it was fun and I learned a lot.”
Alabama takes to the road for its second meet, traveling to Fayetteville, Ark., to take on the Arkansas Razorbacks on Friday at 8 p.m. CST.