The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

Freshman Preview: Alabama


Who Is She?

Despite Alabama’s…shall we say tumultuous…summer (too euphemistic? The Crimson Tide Summer of What’s Racism?), the team plunges ahead into another season with a trio of freshmen joining the squad.

Most significant among the group will be former elite Shania Adams, who has been competing at US nationals since the early Truman administration and most recently placed 12th at senior nationals in 2018, the highest-ranking elite from that year who’s entering college this season. The last time we saw Adams was American Classic in 2019, following her switch from Buckeye to Future, where she placed 3rd all-around.

Cameron Machado does not have quite the elite experience as Adams, but she did compete as a baby junior in the previous quad—hitting the elite circuit in 2016—before opting for the L10 route the past couple years. Most recently, Machado placed 17th all-around in her junior session at JO Nationals in 2019, marked by a 10th-place result on bars.

On the opposite end of the experience spectrum is the third member of the class, Sarah Duhe, who had just qualified to Level 9 when Adams and Machado were competing together at elite nationals in 2016. Duhe participated in her first L10 competitions in 2019 and is walking on to the Alabama team in the hope of providing a vault, certainly her best event.

What’s She Going to Do?

This is not a big class nor one absolutely bursting with routines, so expecting these three to slot in and exactly replace the contributions of Maddie Desch, Shea Mahoney, and Wynter Childers is probably unrealistic. Improvement in 2021 likely hinges on getting Makarri Dogette competing more events and seeing Mati Waligora on the competition floor as much as seeing the freshmen.

(Of note: Alabama has also lost Macy Orozco—transfer to Missouri—and of course Tia Kiaku from the roster, but neither of them competed routines last season. On the addition side, Alabama has brought in transfer Kaylee Quinn from Nebraska, who consistently vaulted for that team.)

Still, Alabama does have a new big name in Shania Adams who is quite capable of competing the all-around for this team and bringing a critical score on all four pieces. Most important will be bars. It’s Adams best event, where she shows the form and handstands to garner 9.9+ scores in college, and also the event where Alabama has lost that critical routine from Mahoney. I’d expect Adams to find a place late in the lineup, if not the anchor.

Adams is a wolf turn specialist (just…be emotionally ready for that), but it’s not all wolf turns. With the right leap selection, her beam can be a thing because the acrobatics are exceptional. Of particular note, her front aerial is one of the very few I’ve seen across this year’s national freshman class that doesn’t have a mushy front leg.

Adams has always owned a solid and comfortable repertoire of D passes on floor, making that a realistic contribution, and while she typically vaulted only a full in elite, she did attempt to upgrade to the Y.15 in 2019 with moderate results, so it seems like that’s an aim. A few definite routines, a few probable routines, but she’ll need to be an essential contributor right away.

Over the last couple seasons of JO, Cameron Machado’s strongest events have almost always been bars and beam (in fact, she did not compete vault or floor in her 2020 meets), so that’s where I’m looking for her most likely contribution. Like Adams, I’d consider bars her best piece, with a Chow to Pak combination and a Van Leeuwen setting herself up for ample composition options in college. On beam, Alabama returns its entire final lineup from last season, so there may not be as urgent a need for new blood (and Adams seems the most likely of the new ones to make beam), but Machado has scored there in the past.

As for Sarah Duhe, her secret weapon is a possible Y1.5 on vault, which she has performed at competitions in the past. I imagine with her, Alabama is hoping for a bit of what LSU had last season with Maddie Rau, where she just showed up and was suddenly another 1.5 for the vault lineup. That’s probably the best-case scenario.

Shut Up and Show Me It

Shania Adams VT UB BB FX
Sarah Duhe VT UB BB FX
Cameron Machado VT UB BB FX
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