Can Tide Gymnasts Make It 3 In Row?

The hard part is done. The Alabama gymnastics team is headed back to the NCAA Championships. But should anyone be surprised? The Crimson Tide's record of getting to the championship meet makes Bama's football record of going to bowl games look ho-hum.

Alabama has won the last two NCAA Championships, even though the Crimson Tide is rarely the favorite. Last year Bama was the No. 3 seed at the championship meet in Duluth, Ga. Coach Sarah Patterson's Crimson Tide has won six championships in the history of NCAA women's gymnastics, which dates from 1982.

The 2013 NCAA Championships will be held April 19-21 in famed Pauley Pavilion on UCLA's campus in Los Angeles.

In addition to the 2011 and 2012 titles, Bama was also the winner in 2002, 1996, 1991, and 1988.

Although getting more competitive, there are only a handful of teams really capable of winning the championship. In fact, in the history of the sport all of the titles have been divided among just four schools – Alabama, Georgia, UCLA, and Utah.

On Saturday night in Coleman Coliseum in one of six NCAA Regional meets, Alabama advanced to its 31st consecutive NCAA Championships meet. It was the Tide's 28th Regional championship, which is best in the nation. Also advancing from the Tuscaloosa regional was Utah, which has made all 32 championship meets.

(One curiosity: Alabama averaged a national best 10,266 fans per meet through the regular season, but only 7,758 showed up for the Tuscaloosa Regional.)

With the top two teams in each of the six regionals across the country advancing to the NCAA Championships, Alabama scored a 197.400 to win its ninth consecutive regional followed by Utah in second with a 196.400. Iowa State was third with a 195.400, while Denver (195.275), BYU 194.475 and Kent State (193.500) rounded out the team scoring.

"To me, this meet is the hardest of the year because there's so much on the line," Patterson said. "Now I think we can go to Los Angeles and compete the way we competed at the SEC Championships – where we were fearless and went for it all. Tonight was all about advancing."

(Although Alabama finished second to top-seed Florida at the Southeastern Conference championships, many non-partisans believed that the Crimson Tide had the more impressive performance.)

Alabama will get another shot at No. 1 Florida and a handful of other SEC teams at the NCAA The other teams to advance from the other regionals are Florida, Oklahoma, Georgia, LSU, UCLA, Michigan, Minnesota, Stanford, Utah, Arkansas and Illinois.

At the Tuscaloosa Regional, the Crimson Tide took the top-two spots in the all-around with fifth-year senior Ashley Priess posting a 39.6 for the top spot while junior Kim Jacob was second with a 39.475.

"Ashley had an amazing night and we all knew she could do it – we knew from the beginning of the season that she could do it," Jacob said. "But this is the time we really need her. The coaches knew exactly when she was ready and it was the perfect time for her. I'm so proud of her, but we had no doubts that she had it in her."

It was Priess' first appearance in the all-around since the 2012 NCAA Championship Super Six Team Finals when she clinched the Tide's second consecutive national title and sixth overall with a 9.95 on the balance beam.

"I was really happy with my timing and the fact that I'm peaking right here at the end of the season and I owe it all to the experience our coaches have," Priess said.

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