Tide Gymnastics Opens Vs. Georgia

Alabama gymnastics has a big opening meet tonight, Friday the 13th of January, and the Crimson Tide has the "best recruit in the country" ready to perform, according to Crimson Tide Coach Sarah Patterson.

Alabama gymnastics is opening with a blockbuster meet, hosting 10-time NCAA Champion Georgia at 7:30 p.m. in Coleman Coliseum. Bama and the Bulldogs have combined to win 15 of the last 25 NCAA championships.

Alabama began classes Wednesday and on Thursday Patterson announced that the Crimson Tide had added a new performer, one with a familiar name. The Alabama gymnastics team has added Hunter Dennis to its 2012 roster. Dennis is the sister of former Crimson Tide great Morgan Dennis, an NCAA champion.

"We are extremely excited to have Hunter join this year's team," Patterson said. "She is a dynamic gymnast who will certainly add a spark to the team." Dennis, graduated early from Holy Cross High School in New Jersey and arrived in Tuscaloosa this week to start classes, practice and be a part of Friday's season opener against Georgia.

But as good as she may be, Dennis is not the great new "recruit" for the Crimson Tide.

Among the Tide's All-American contingent is Ashley Priess, who was sidelined last year after surgery on both ankles prior to the season. Patterson calls the returning Priess "the best recruit in the country" coming into this season. In addition to its 13 veterans, the Tide also has five freshmen on its roster, including Dennis. Her addition pushes Alabama's roster to 18, making it the largest in program history.

Patterson, beginning her 34th season as Tide coach, knows that Georgia is an outstanding team.

She noted, "Georgia comes in here with a chip on their shoulder. We beat them at their arena last year and we beat them at the SEC and national championships last year. They started their season last week by posting the highest score in the country."

"It's a big rivalry," Patterson said. "You go back to 1987 when they won their first championship, and then we won in 1988 - every year that we are going to win a championship, we have to get through Georgia and if they want to win one, they've got to get through us."

Georgia got its season underway by posting the highest score in the country last week, a 196.525, to start the season with a win over Denver in Athens. For the Tide, tonight marks the first time it has opened the season with a dual meet against the Gym Dogs since 1985, two years before either team won a national title. Opening with such a big meet doesn't change the team's preparation, but it does pump up the atmosphere.

"It doesn't really matter who we were facing, we'd be going through the same things and trying to prepare the ladies in the same way," Patterson said. "But I think there's a little more bounce in their step when they're competing against Georgia."

In addition to being the defending national and conference champions, Alabama comes into this season a far more experienced team than it was a year ago when nearly half the roster, eight gymnasts in all, were freshmen and the Tide had just lost four All-Americans to graduation. While this year's team is without 2011 national gymnast of the year Kayla Hoffman, it returns eight All-Americans, including senior NCAA floor exercise champion Geralen Stack-Eaton, and all but four routines from last year's national championship squad.

Season and individual meet tickets are available through the Alabama Ticket Office (205.348.2262), located in the lobby of Coleman Coliseum, and online at RollTide.com.

As for the Tide's newest addition, Hunter Dennis, she said, "I'm really excited. I know so many people down here that it feels like home. It's been my dream to come here since I was 12 years old and I saw my sister compete the first time. She looked like she was having so much fun and that's when I realized that I wanted to be here."

A native of Westampton, N.J., Dennis arrived on campus on the first day of classes.

"Our goal is to help Hunter make a smooth transition and adjust to life here at Alabama," Patterson said. "We're working to get her set with her academic schedule and make her comfortable in her new home so she can begin to train."

Dennis was coached by Kim Bonus, John Wilton and Jeanne Kane at Will-Moor School of Gymnastics. A 2010 Junior Olympic National qualifier, she is a six-time Region 7 competitor. She also won the all-around, vault and floor exercise at the Sportsplex Team Classic and was the floor exercise champion at the IGI Chicago Style Invitational.

The daughter of Al and Carla Dennis, her sister Morgan competed for the Tide from 2007-10.

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