This year's women's gymnastics pre-season poll nearly mirrors last year's final team results, with UCLA ranked No. 1, in front of Georgia, Michigan, Alabama, Utah and Nebraska. UCLA was the overwhelming favorite with 29 first-place votes, while Michigan (No. 3) received three votes, Alabama and Utah received two and Nebraska (No. 6) received one. Georgia (No. 2) failed to receive any first-place votes.
"We are ranked really high this pre-season, regardless of the injuries our team has suffered and is currently recovering from," said Tide Head Coach Sarah Patterson. "This just shows we have earned a great deal of respect from the country's coaches. This is telling us that others still think we will be at the forefront at the end of the season."
For the past five years, Alabama has been ranked no lower than sixth going into the season.
Of Alabama's nine opponents, seven are in the top-15. Kentucky is ranked No. 24 and Auburn is currently unranked. Auburn's absence from the poll surprised Patterson, who believes this year's edition of the Tigers will be tough to beat.
"I think Auburn will be a top-15 team this year, and I am surprised the coaches did not consider Auburn's recruits and facilities," Patterson said. "I think everyone remembers we narrowly edged out Kentucky last year, and we can take no competitor for granted.
"This is going to be a tough season, and I don't see us remaining undefeated. However, this schedule is going to get us ready for 'The Big Show,' for Championships. That's the purpose of competing against teams of this caliber."
The Tide will face two-time defending national champions UCLA twice this year. The Georgia Gym Dogs make three appearances on the Tide's schedule this season. In addition to meeting UCLA and Georgia at home, Alabama will also meet Nebraska (No. 6), Florida (No. 7) and Denver (No. 14). The Tide will meet LSU (No. 11) and Penn State (No. 12) at the Super Six Challenge. Alabama will also travel to Baton Rouge to meet the LSU Tigers a second time later on in the season.
The Crimson Tide kicks off the 2002 home season Jan. 18 against Georgia. Season tickets are still on sale at the Alabama Ticket Office at (205) 348-BAMA. The NCAA National Championships will return to Tuscaloosa for the third time in eleven years, April 18-20. More information about the competition can be found at www.rolltide.com.