Alabama Gymnasts Slip Past Georgia

The defending NCAA Champion Alabama gymnastics team got its 2012 season started with a down-to-the-wire win over Georgia, 196.475-196.325 in front of 14,501 fans in Coleman Coliseum Friday night.

"I am so proud of our team tonight," Alabama Coach Sarah Patterson said. "You could tell it was our first meet; we had some jitters. We had a couple of little freshmen mistakes. I think our ladies just used this challenge and I think we probably benefited more from the way the evening transpired than if we had gone out and been perfect."

The Crimson Tide was led by junior Ashley Sledge, who won her collegiate all-around debut with a 39.4. Sledge started her season off with a career-best 9.975 on the vault, which on most nights would have been good enough for the win, but tonight Geralen Stack-Eaton, who closed out her junior season by winning the NCAA floor exercise title, opened her senior season by scoring a perfect 10.0 on the vault.

"Everybody was screaming and it was so surreal," Stack-Eaton said of her 10. "Everyone was like ‘oh my gosh.' I was thinking ‘oh, wow.' It was really amazing and I'm very honored." Stack-Eaton and senior Ashley Priess, in her first meet back in the Tide lineup after sitting out last season following double ankle surgery, tied for first on the uneven bars with scores of 9.875. Priess also won the floor exercise, scoring a 9.9 to tie with junior Marissa Gutierrez for top honors, while Georgia's Shayla Worley won the balance beam with a 9.95.

Alabama got the night and season off to hot start with Sledge scoring a career-best 9.975 in the third spot in the lineup, followed by Stack-Eaton's 10.0 in the fifth spot, which pushed Alabama to a 49.550 team score. The Tide's vault score was higher than any it posted during last year's regular season. Georgia opened with a 49.225 on the uneven bars.

The Tide struggled on its second event, the uneven bars, when its third and fourth gymnasts fell. Stack-Eaton and Priess closed with matching 9.875s to help Alabama salvage a 48.625 to go into the second half the meet just .150 behind the Bulldogs, who scored a 49.100 on the vault.

Alabama was solid on the balance beam, turning in a 49.000, led by a 9.825 from sophomore Kim Jacob in the leadoff spot and 9.85s from both Stack-Eaton and Priess in the fifth and sixth spots in the lineup. Georgia turned in a 48.825 on the floor exercise giving Alabama the slimmest .025 lead going into the last rotation.

Georgia wasn't going away, though, turning in a 49.125 on the beam anchored by Worley's 9.95. For the Tide, it came down to Priess and the final routine of the night. Her 9.9, which brought the packed house to its feet, gave UA a 49.200 and a .150 victory over the Bulldogs.

"That's a great rivalry out there, that's a great Georgia team," Patterson said. "We had a great score when you think that we counted a fall. I'm proud of our ladies for coming back and not giving up."

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