TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – An already solid start got a touch of magic when the Alabama gymnastics team went to the floor exercise, it’s final rotation on the way to beating Kentucky 196.850-195.825 Friday night in Coleman Coliseum in front of a limited capacity sellout of 2,055.
Sitting .025 behind the Wildcats after the first three rotations, veteran Alonza Klopfer got the Tide off to a strong start with a 9.850. It was the next two gymnasts who turned the night golden.
Sania Mitchell went second for the Tide. In her third year with Alabama, this would be the first time that Mitchell, who grew up coming to Alabama meets and dreaming of one day bringing Coleman Coliseum to its feet, would compete in the Crimson Tide’s competitive lineup. She accomplished just that, scoring a 9.85 and bringing her teammates screaming and cheering to the floor and the crowd to its feet, her childhood dream becoming a reality.
As if that wasn’t enough of a feel-good story, Griffin James was up next. Friday night against the Wildcats, she was back out on the floor exercise mat, less than a year after she was carried off it with a season-ending achilleas injury that could have been career ending. Soaring through her routine, James showed no fear, scoring a career-best 9.900 from the judges. Overcome with the emotions of the moment, James failed to salute the judges at the end of her routine, which resulted in a one-tenth deduction but did nothing to mar the team’s joy as they celebrated around her.
Senior Lexi Graber (9.925) and rookie Shania Adams (9.850) closed out the final rotation and the Wildcats, pushing Alabama to a floor score of 49.275 and sealing its win.
Head Coach Dana Duckworth Said
“Our team was so excited to compete tonight. Our team had waited 10 months, since March 12th, to be able to experience this, and what I saw was an absolute team effort. We have 15 available athletes training right now and we utilized 13 of those young women. I think that speaks to our depth. Tonight was amazing for so many reasons. First, it was a new experience from a fan perspective for us, and I think the team did a phenomenal job, led by Alonza, in keeping the energy going from the corral. That is going to be something we are going to need to keep doing because the girls feed off that. The back-to-back moment on floor, when Griffin James came back for her first floor exercise routine since she ruptured her Achilles, doing a beautiful routine, following Sania who really had a dream come true. She’s from Tuscaloosa, Alabama and is one of those little girls who probably stood in the stands a long time and thought ‘I want to do that’ and she got that moment tonight. We had a lot of new faces out there tonight. Mati Waligora is a beautiful story of resilience and faith. She did not have a freshman season due to injury and look at what she did tonight. She has so much more in the tank and we’re excited about that. We had freshman routines from Shania and Cam (Machado), and those are some faces you’re going to keep seeing for us. It was a great start for this team, and I think they would both agree that the sky’s the limit.”
Inside the Scoresheet
- Hampered by injury in her first season, Mati Waligora competed in three events Friday night, winning the balance beam with a 9.925 and scoring a 9.850 on the vault and a 9.775 on the uneven bars
- Makarri Doggette tied Waligora for top honors on the balance beam with a 9.925 and won the uneven bars with a 9.900
- In addition to winning the floor exercise with a 9.925, Graber led the Tide on the vault with a 9.875
- A transfer from Nebraska, Kaylee Quinn made her Alabama debut by opening the Crimson Tide’s season with a 9.775 on the vault
- Adams earned a 39.275 in the all-around in her first meet wearing the crimson and white of Alabama
- Freshman Cam Machado led off the Tide’s uneven bars routine with a 9.875 and scored a 9.825 on the balance beam
- Of the 15 gymnasts available for action on the Tide’s roster, 13 competed Friday against the Wildcats, including five who went in the Tide’s completive lineup for the first time ever
- The Crimson Tide’s 196.850, was its highest opening meet score since the 2014 season
- After opening at home against the Wildcats, Alabama takes to the road, traveling to Columbia, Mo., to take on the Mizzou Tigers on Friday, Jan. 15 at 7 p.m. CT
- The UA-UM meet will be streamed live on the SEC Network+ and the ESPN app
- The Crimson Tide’s next home meet will come on Friday, Jan. 22 against the Auburn Tigers at 7:30 p.m. CT, with the in-state rivalry being broadcast live on the SEC Network