Tide Gymnasts At SEC Championships

DULUTH, Ga. – The Alabama gymnastics team, the defending SEC and NCAA Champions, completed its practice day in the Arena at Gwinnett Place Friday afternoon in preparation for Saturday's Southeastern Conference Championships which get underway at 4 p.m. EDT.

During the championship draw, which was held after the first of two practice sessions, Alabama learned it would start its drive for back-to-back SEC titles on the uneven bars, the same rotation as a year ago. After the uneven bars, Alabama will move to the balance beam before going to the first of three byes. From there the Tide will go to the floor exercise, then its second bye, before finishing competition on the vault and then heading to a bye during the seventh and final rotation.

The three byes during the meet don't bother Alabama Coach Sarah Patterson.

"Our team in particular likes to go into the locker room during byes and stay loose and energized and have fun as a team before coming out and going to the next event," the Crimson Tide coach said.

This season marks the fourth time the league championship has been held in Duluth, Ga. and the first time since 2008 when Alabama and Florida finished second to Georgia by .025 in the tightest championship finish on record. It will also be the seventh time SECs has been contested on a podium, the same setup as the national championships.

"I think it's a tremendous benefit for our teams to not only face this level of competition, which prepares us for anything we'll see at regionals or nationals, but also to be on the podium, which we'll also experience at nationals," Patterson said.

Alabama comes into the postseason sporting an 11-1-0 record which includes a perfect 6-0-0 mark in SEC competition. The Tide hasn't lost to an SEC since falling to Florida in Gainesville on Feb. 4, 2011. Since that time, Alabama is 10-0 against SEC teams in the regular season and 9-0 in championship events, for an SEC-win streak that stands at 19.

Despite its current win streak against conference competition, capturing its eighth SEC title and third in four years will be a challenge. Of the seven SEC teams that sponsor gymnastics, three are ranked in the top five nationally (No. 1 Florida, No. 3 Alabama and No. 5 Georgia), five are in the top 10 and all seven are in the top 25.

"Every year the level of competition at the SEC Championships is just amazing," Patterson said. "I believe that it is the closest thing to the finals of the NCAA Championships. In fact, one year five of six teams in the NCAA Super Six Team Finals were from the SEC. That kind of competition just makes us all better."

Alabama is led by the senior All-America and All-SEC duo of Ashley Priess and Geralen Stack-Eaton. Priess is a two-time SEC champion, winning the 2010 all-around and balance beam titles before sitting out last season following surgery on both ankles. Stack-Eaton won the balance beam and floor exercise titles last season, leading the Tide to the 2011 SEC team championship. Priess and Stack-Eaton were also integral to the Tide's 2009 SEC Championship as freshmen.

Alabama also returns five other gymnasts who have earned All-SEC honors, including juniors Ashley Sledge and Marissa Gutierrez and sophomores Kim Jacob, Sarah DeMeo and Diandra Milliner.

"This is as deep as we have been in a while and it has been very helpful to be able to shuffle our lineup around," Patterson said. "We've been able to move people around, put someone in, take someone out, depending on how they're feeling. It's a matter of roster management and it has helped us keep everyone healthy and ready to go at the right times."

BamaMag Top Stories