'Two in a row' is the goal

The Alabama Gymnastics team has known for some time now that they were advancing to the program's 21st consecutive NCAA Championships. <br><br>But as Head Coach Sarah Patterson often points out, before a team can win a national title, first the squad must advance to the second round of competition or "Super Six."

To do that the Tide must place among the top three squads in its opening-day pool.

The championships start Thursday, April 24 with two sessions made up of six teams. Alabama will compete in the afternoon session where they will be joined by UCLA, LSU, Michigan, Arizona State and Iowa.

Alabama and the Bruins give the afternoon session the last two NCAA champs. UCLA was the nation's top ranked team for much of the season while Arizona State finished the regular season at No. 3. Alabama and UCLA have seven NCAA titles between them.

"It doesn't matter who is in our session," Patterson said. "I am confident that this young group will do what ever is necessary to advance to the Super Six and a shot at the national title."

Stanford, Florida, Georgia, Auburn and Nebraska are in Thursday's evening session. Thursday's sessions are decided by random draw with three regional winners and three second place teams going into each one. As the host, Nebraska is automatically in the evening session, along with the teams in its draw. The top three teams from Thursday's sessions advance to Friday night's Super Six team final.

"This never gets old, qualifying for the finals of the NCAA Championships" Alabama head coach Sarah Patterson said. "Our goal year-in-and year out is put ourselves in a position, on the last night of the season, to win a national championship. To do that, we must be in the top-3 teams of our session Thursday and advance."

In addition to familiar faces UCLA and Utah, the 2003 NCAA Championships will be heavy with Southeastern Conferences squads. Including Alabama, five SEC teams will make the trip north, the most in league history, tying the mark set in 1993 when Alabama, Auburn and Georgia all finished in the top 5. It would be Auburn's last trip until this season. Alabama and Auburn will be joined by LSU, Florida and Georgia.

"The fact that five SEC teams made it to the final 12 speaks volumes about this conference and the commitment that our institutions have made to the sport of gymnastics," Patterson said. "I think one of the reasons that we are so successful during the championship season is that we test ourselves against the high level of competition that the SEC provides week in and week out during the regular season."

Host school Nebraska, Arizona State, Stanford, Michigan and first timer Iowa round out the 12 teams.

The Tide will start the session on the uneven bars. From there they will move to the balance beam, onto a bye, then they will move to the floor exercise and finish competition on the vault, before going to a bye for the sixth and final rotation.

To advance to the NCAA Championships, the teams finished first or second at one of the six regional championships held Saturday (April 12). While most of the region winners picked up their bids with relative ease, the battle for the second spot was hotly contested at all six sites with four being decided by the slimmest of margins, .025, or in one case, a tiebreaker.

At the Southeast regional, Florida slipped past UNC by .025, the same margin by which Iowa got by Oregon State and LSU held off Washington. At the Central regional, Alabama won its 19th region title by a hefty margin, but Auburn and Central Michigan tied for second, forcing a tiebreaker, which Auburn won.

Nine of the 12 teams advancing this year were in Tuscaloosa in 2002 when the Crimson Tide won NCAA Championship No. 4. Arizona State is back after a year away while Auburn is back after a decade.

Day One Sessions and Rotation Order:

Thursday afternoon
LSU - Vault
Michigan - Bye 1
Alabama - Uneven Bars
ASU - Balance Beam
UCLA - Bye 2
Iowa - Floor Exercise

Thursday evening
Stanford - Vault
Florida - Bye 1
Georgia - Uneven Bars
Auburn - Balance Beam
Nebraska - Bye 2
Utah - Floor Exercise

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