Ashley Johnston switches sides in Alabama-Auburn gymnastics rivalry again, gets first win as Tide coach

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Alabama gymnastics coach Ashley Johnston made history Friday night.

Before she returned to Tuscaloosa, Johnston served as an assistant at Auburn, helping lead the Tigers to a fourth-place finish in the 2022 NCAA Championship, including a win over Alabama that January. A little more than a year after helping the Tigers to their third win over Alabama in program history, Johnston recorded her second consecutive win in the rivalry, but this time from the other side.

“Well, that’s one for the record books, huh?” said Johnston following the Crimson Tide’s 197.85-197.7 Power of Pink comeback win over the Tigers on Friday night.

Johnston spent four seasons with Auburn as an assistant under head coach Jeff Graba. Prior to that, she competed as a gymnast from 2009-12 under then-Alabama head coach Sarah Patterson. Johnston still has relationships with gymnasts and coaches on both sides of the rivalry.

Jan 6, 2023; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA;  Alabama defeated Michigan State in the season opening match at Coleman Coliseum. Alabama head coach Ashley Johnston talks to the team after the winning meet, JohnstonÕs first as Alabama head coach.
Jan 6, 2023; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama defeated Michigan State in the season opening match at Coleman Coliseum. Alabama head coach Ashley Johnston talks to the team after the winning meet, JohnstonÕs first as Alabama head coach.

“It’s hard for me because as a coach, you want to have great connections with your players in any sport,” Johnston said. “My goal as a coach is for my athletes to not need me to succeed.”

Johnston returned to Alabama to begin 2023 after the resignation of former head coach Dana Duckworth. Despite her history on both sides of the rivalry, Johnston is happy to coach her current team.

“Throughout their entire careers, this team has had a slightly different way of doing things,” Johnston said. “I'm just so thankful for them and how they have welcomed me into this space. We really started creating something special together. I’m just so, so proud. It’s a very fulfilling feeling.”

Alabama gymnasts stood behind their coach, offering their full support as Johnston coached against her former team for the first time.“She is the calmest person I’ve ever met in my life,” said senior Luisa Blanco, whose three individual titles including a perfect 10 on the balance beam on Friday night helped Alabama come back from a deficit more than two-tenths of a point.

Sophomore Lilly Hudson, whose 9.975 score on the floor exercise clinched her an individual title of her own Friday night, put it much more succinctly.

“She’s an Alabama girl,” Hudson said. “She’s an Alabama girl through and through.”

This article originally appeared on The Tuscaloosa News: Alabama-Auburn gymnastics: Ashley Johnston wins as Tide coach vs rival