Ashley Johnston is smiling today. The Crimson Tide's second-year gymnastics coach has reason to grin.

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Her eighth-ranked Alabama team made the most out of a season-opening trip to the desert. The Tide went to Las Vegas and took first in a quad meet over No. 5 UCLA, No. 7 California and No. 17 Auburn at the Mean Girls Super 16 Championships. Alabama was the only team of the four to eclipse a team score of 197, finishing with a 197.125. Cal took second with a 196.850, Auburn was third with a 196.600, and UCLA  finished fourth with a 196.550.

All of those are good first meet scores for anyone. Bama's is stellar.

The Crimson Tide did not compete in the traditional order by starting with the floor exercise, normally the final event. Bama then moved to the vault, bars and beam in that order.

The meet featured two rivalry matchups: UCLA-Cal and Alabama-Auburn. 

Said Johnston: "We selected to start on the floor because it has been one of our really strong events, not just tumbling-wise, but we've been working hard on the performance. We felt like that was going to be a really good place to start strong and just settle into the groove of competing again.

“I'm really proud of our team tonight. We were really focused on winning the moment. Whatever the challenge was going to be, whatever the setback was going to be, whatever the distraction might be, just learning how to respond, overcome it and win the moment to be able to create momentum and carry that throughout the competition. And I feel like our team did that tonight.

"There was a lot of high moments and also some areas that we need to tweak and improve, but that's to be expected at the first meet of the season. We'll take what we learned and continue to improve and work as we move through the coming weeks.

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“We can't wait to be back in Coleman Coliseum [on Friday, Jan. 12, against Missouri]. We've been waiting since last March for this moment, and I think Luisa [Blanco]  said it best when we huddled up at the end – that she's been waiting since last April when her [individual] national championship ended, to come together as a team and to really find a way to just win moments.

"I'm so proud of this team for finding ways to overcome challenges and end on a huge high tonight. We can't wait to be back in our home arena in front of our crowd and fans. We're here to play gymnastics. We're here to go big, and we're just so thankful for everybody's support.”

Johnston is both a former Tide gymnast and ex-Auburn assistant coach. She is now 3-0 vs. the Tigers as Bama's head coach.

Blanco and sophomore Gabby Gladieux started the 2024 season right where they left off in 2023. Both All-SEC performers last year provided the Tide with a much-needed spark on all four events. 

Gladieux scored a meet-high 9.975 as the floor anchor, setting the tone early in the night with a score that failed to be topped. Later, Blanco clinched the victory for her team with a clutch beam routine that scored a 9.875. She also tied for the meet-high on the uneven bars with a 9.900. Bama was in danger of losing its lead after a fall on beam, but Blanco nailed her routine to ice the win.

Rookies came through for Johnston, too.

Freshmen Jamison Sears and Chloe LaCoursiere both made their Crimson Tide debuts in Las Vegas. Sears scored a 9.850 as the leadoff vaulter, while LaCoursiere scored a 9.900 as first up on bars. 

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Gallery Credit: Mary K

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