It is the width of a balance beam in NCAA gymnastics. Every gymnastics event is challenging and impressive, but the ability to perform these kinds of skills on this small space might be the most impressive. The average person would struggle to balance on anything four inches wide for any period of time, let alone twist, turn, jump and flip on that four inch device. .
Still, it’s nothing new for the Alabama gymnasts who have trained at this event most of their lives, and the balance beam is a challenge this year’s team has fully embraced and mastered. slowly week after week.
“I love competing, but I would say beam is definitely my favorite event,” said all-around junior Mati Waligora. “I think it’s just the thrill of being on a four-inch piece of wood, and just knowing that you’ve prepared and done all the training and being confident up there. It’s really a thrill. It’s so much fun.”
The Crimson Tide is ranked No. 7 overall nationwide but No. 3 on balance beam. Junior Luisa Blanco has anchored the beam rotation in every meet this season and ranks second in the nation on apparatus.
Twice this season, both times on the road in rowdy environments, Alabama has posted scores of 49.625 or better on balance beam with at least five gymnasts scoring a 9.9 or better. The first was in Auburn on January 28 when the team closed the competition with a 49.650, the second-highest beam score in program history. Most recently, Alabama scored a 49.625 at LSU with all six gymnasts scoring 9.9 or better.
Alabama head coach Dana Duckworth is the event coach for the balance beam and was a balance beam specialist herself as a gymnast at Alabama. She said consistency in practice is what has led to the great performances to close out competitions on the road.
“The way they’ve behaved since the second pre-season started at all the pressure sets and the environments that we try to create in the gym, and then every encounter presented an opportunity, and they took advantage of it,” said said Duckworth. “It hasn’t been perfect, but they have a lot of faith and confidence in them, and that’s what we want for all four events. And that’s where it comes from. We have great workers on beam, and it’s fun to train.”
Duckworth really feels like he has eight or nine gymnasts capable of posting consistent scores of 9.9 or better, but the roster that has started to settle is junior Ella Burgess in the lead, Olympian Shallon Olsen in the second slot, senior Lexi Graber goes third, Waligora fourth, rookie Lilly Hudson fifth and NCAA individual beam champion Blanco anchoring the rotation.
With Graber returning for his fifth year, Alabama hasn’t lost a ton from last year’s team. However, one of the biggest holes to fill was Alonza Klopfer in the front row on balance beam, who was always a constant and constant presence in this pressure-filled role. After an Achilles injury in 2021, Burgess has slipped into that top position perfectly. She said her teammates have full confidence in her there, making it an honor to fill the role.
“Our beam team is very strong,” Burgess said. “Every day is like a competition in training. So I think doing that every day and putting ourselves like we’re competing in competition with every routine that we do, kind of prepares us to show up with great performance.”
Olsen has been in and out of the beam rotation throughout her four years at Alabama, but second place in the roster has been a good home for her the last two meetings, scoring a 9.9 each time. . She was a last-minute addition to the home roster against Georgia, but Duckworth said she earned that spot.
“I was ready to be put in that position,” Olsen said. “I’m just really happy that she did because I worked really hard in the gym, and I’m really, really excited that I got to show it.”
The Canadian Olympian has some of the toughest skills in collegiate gymnastics, including her double back pike dismount on balance beam. She blocked the landing two weeks in a row, which helped lead to high scores.
Though she’s in the middle of the order, fifth-year Graber is no stranger to the balance beam. She is the 2019 and 2021 SEC Individual Champion of the event, and Duckworth said on Hey Coach! that she asked Graber if she wanted to go down in formation, but she feels comfortable in third place.
Waligora was unavailable for a competition, but she went to beam in all six competitions she entered, scoring a 9.925 on three occasions. After the team-record total at Auburn, Waligora said the team was focused on beam aggression.
While Alabama has eight or nine gymnasts who can put on strong performances on the beam, the end of the rotation is where the star power really shines with Hudson and Blanco.
Hudson, a three-time SEC freshman of the week this season, has been absolutely spot-on this season. Whether it was a fall or just trying to close out a solid rotation, Hudson didn’t look like a freshman with her calm demeanor and solid routines week after week. During Hey Coach!, Duckworth joked that Hudson was one of the veterans on beam because of the way she carried herself.
In seven meets, Hudson hasn’t scored below 9.875 on beam and is currently ranked No. 8 in the nation for that event.
The Crimson Tide ends the rotation with one of the finest beam workers in the country. Blanco won the individual championship on balance beam in the SEC and NCAA last season, joining his head coach as the only gymnast in program history to accomplish the feat.
“We both love the balance beam, and when you love what you do and do what you love, amazing things happen,” Duckworth said of Blanco.
Last season, Blanco scored a perfect 10 on beam in NCAA Regionals and came close to last meeting against LSU with a 9.975. She has the talent and the consistency to hit a perfect 10 again at some point this season. Blanco has scored 9.9 or better on beam 17 times in his career with zero falls. She’s a coach’s dream spotlight so she can get into the last spot of a rotation.
Alabama has shown its abilities on the balance beam and the other three events this season, but Duckworth wants to see a meet where the Crimson Tide hosts all four events on the same night. (Alabama is ranked third on beam, fourth on bars, and eighth on floor and vault.) His team basically did it in the triple meet against North Carolina and West Michigan on Feb. 4, but the next opportunity comes this Friday night at 5 against Missouri at home inside the Coleman Coliseum.
Since this is a home meet, Alabama will start on vault before moving on to uneven bars and then beam before closing things out on floor. The last event the Crimson Tide completed was 49.625 on beam against LSU, and Graber wants to carry that momentum into the game against Missouri.
“I think we just have to build that into every event we put on, because I think we’re capable of going over 49,500 across the four events,” Graber said. “And so I think it’s important to carry that confidence into the first event, the jump this week, and to know that we’re capable of doing that in every event.”