Alabama Gymnasts Go For NCAA Title

CLEVELAND - The No. 1 seeded Alabama gymnastics team posted the highest score of either semifinal session on day one of the NCAA Championships being held in the Wolstein Center on the Cleveland State campus this weekend and advanced to Saturday's NCAA Super Six Team Final.

"There is so much - individual pressure, team pressure - hanging over everyone's head," Alabama Coach Sarah Patterson said. "Our goal at the University of Alabama is to always be on the floor the last night of the season and to have an opportunity to compete for a national championship. I think that for us, being in that position as we are again this year, and having that opportunity … it never gets old and we never take it for granted."

The Crimson Tide posted a 197.050 to win its session while Nebraska was second with a 196.850 and Utah was third with a 196.200. Florida, ranked No. 1 through the regular season, finished just a fraction behind the Utes with a 196.125 while Oregon State took fifth with a 196.100. Host school Kent State finished sixth with a 195.000.

The top three teams from each of Friday's semifinals advance to the Super Six. Alabama, Nebraska and Utah will be joined by defending NCAA Champion UCLA as well as Michigan and Oklahoma, which advanced out of the first semifinal, on Saturday at 4 p.m. EDT with the national title on the line. Alabama will start team finals on the vault and will go to a bye, then the uneven bars and balance beam. From there UA will go to its second bye before ending the night on the floor exercise.

Alabama was led by a 39.500 all-around score from senior Kayla Hoffman and a 39.400 from junior Geralen Stack-Eaton. The duo's scores were the top two in the second semifinal session. Hoffman finished second overall, just .025 behind NCAA All-Around Champion Kylee Botterman of Michigan who competed in the first session, while Stack-Eaton tied for third place.

"I just think tonight was almost harder," Hoffman said. "There was more pressure. Tomorrow it's just about having fun and kind of just laying it on the line.

Alabama closed out the night on the balance beam with a 48.950, the highest score of the session on that event and the second highest of the day, led by Hoffman's 9.9 and freshman Kim Jacob's 9.875. The Tide started the night with a 49.300 on the floor led by Stack-Eaton's 9.925.

Alabama posted its highest total of the night on the vault where three UA gymnasts, Hoffman, Stack-Eaton and sophomore Ashley Sledge, scored 9.9s, while sophomore Marissa Gutierrez led the way with a career-best 9.95.

The Tide's fifth rotation brought some tense moments when sophomore Becca Alexin, who was second at the NCAA Regional two weeks ago, fell on the uneven bars for the first time all season in the second spot in the lineup. Her teammates picked her up though, finishing off with 9.9s from freshman Sarah DeMeo and Stack-Eaton, a 9.875 from Hoffman and a 9.825 from Jacob.

"I really think all of us took a deep breath and we knew that we were going to have each other's backs and we were going to come back and support Becca," Hoffman said. "That's why it's a team. It was a great team effort and we were very excited to come back from that."

Alabama was the only Southeastern Conference team to advance to the Super Six, which means for the first time since 1982, only one SEC school will finish among the nation's top-6 teams. The Tide has finished in the top-6 at nationals 27 of the last 29 years.

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