Alabama Gymnastics Takes On Bulldogs

For those who thought Georgia gymnastics was dead and buried, here's breaking news. The Bulldogs, post-Suzanne Yoculan, are doing just fine two years after Sarah Patterson's arch enemy in the world of gymnastics coaching retired.

The Alabama gymnastics team of Patterson has been very hot of late with back-to-back season-high scores, but those meets were in Coleman Coliseum. Now Bama hits the road, and goes to Georgia. The Crimson Tide is ranked fifth in the nation, but the homestanding Bulldogs are rated fourth.

Alabama and Georgia will get started in Stegemen Coliseum at 7:30 p.m. EST Friday with ESPNU taping the event for delayed broadcast. And Yoculan will be there, providing color analysis for the broadcast.

"They'll have a great crowd, all cheering against us," Patterson said. "We have to use that atmosphere to our advantage and create our own energy within ourselves."

It's not just that Georgia is ranked slightly ahead of Bama. The Tide has been a better home team than road squad.

"We've struggled at times on the road this season," Patterson said. "After the mistakes we made at Florida, we came back and focused on improving and competing like we're capable of. We've done that twice now in front of crowds of 15,000 and 14,000, at home where we're comfortable. We have to be able to take that on the road, get off to a strong start and carry it through."

In victories over Auburn and Kentucky in Coleman Coliseum in the past two weeks, Bama has posted scores of 197.075 and 197.275.

Patterson plans a strategic move against the Bulldogs, putting sophomore Ashley Sledge up first on the uneven bars, the Tide's opening event against the Bulldogs. Sledge has scored a career-high 9.925 already this season on the road at the Metroplex Challenge, and has put up back-to-back 9.9 scores in the last two meets.

"Putting Ashley up first makes a statement," Patterson said. "It gives us a chance to come out on fire, which we'll need to do in Athens."

Alabama stumbled on the uneven bars at Arkansas and Florida, with three breaks in each meet. Against the Razorbacks, the Tide climbed back into the meet with a phenomenal vault set, but wasn't able to do the same against the No. 1 Gators. Patterson put Sledge up first against Auburn two weeks ago and the Fairview, Ill. native led the Tide to a 49.375, its season-best.

Junior Geralen Stack-Eaton comes into Friday's meet following the best meet of her career last weekend, winning four of the five individual titles and hitting four career-high scores, including a 39.675 in the all-around. She was named the SEC Gymnast of the Week for the second time in her career for her efforts. Senior Kayla Hoffman, a two-time SEC Gymnast of the Week herself, comes into Athens as the nation's No. 1 ranked vaulter, after compiling a 9.910 regional qualifying score.

The regional qualifying score, or RQS, is one of the reasons this Friday's meet is so important to the Tide. The formula takes a team's top three road scores, its next three highest scores, drops the high score and averages the remaining five. Alabama is looking drop its sub-par road marks, from both Arkansas and Florida, out of the equation, which determines national ranking and regional seeding at this point in the season.

A majority of the Tide's young team won't be familiar with their surroundings on Friday, as only three gymnasts who have competed in Athens - Hoffman, Stack-Eaton and junior Rachel Terry - are slated to be in the lineup.

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