Bama shucks Husker challenge

TUSCALOOSA, ALA - In the midst of a tight team race between the No. 5 Alabama gymnastics team and No. 4 Nebraska, a star was born in Coleman Coliseum.

Freshman gymnast Michelle Reeser made her competitive debut Saturday night on the floor exercise and she brought the house to its feet with every tumbling pass. An instant crowd favorite, Reeser made the most of her coming out party going 9.900.

"It's just a fun routine to watch," Alabama head coach Sarah Patterson said of her cheer producing rookie. "And it's one that is just going to get better as time goes along."

Reeser's debut in Crimson was delayed as she recovered from an Achilles tendon injury.

Patterson also saw her team, who she has been saying all along was taking steps every week to get better, make a huge leap forward. After three weeks in a row with scores clustered in the 195.5 range, Alabama scored a season best 196.925, nearly three-quarters of a point better than Nebraska's 196.100 and more than a point better than the Tide's previous season best.

While the biggest difference in the Tide's performance came in the balance beam, where the Tide went 5-of-6 and scored a season best by .475, there was improvement on all four events. The Tide scored season bests on the vault, beam and floor exercise and tied its season best on the uneven bars.

Junior Kristin Sterner had a huge night, scoring a 39.575, just off her career best of 39.6 posted last year at the NCAA Regional Championships. Sterner also won the floor exercise with a 9.975 and the balance beam with a 9.875. Senior Andree' Pickens won the other two events, taking the vault with a 9.975 and the uneven bars with a 9.950.

With the score close after three rotations, the Tide led by less than two tenths, Alabama needed a strong floor outing to put the Huskers away. Sophomore Lauren Holdefer fell in the first spot opening the door for Nebraska, but sophomore Stephanie Kite came back strong with a 9.875 in the second spot. She was followed by Reeser who got the crowd to their feet. Junior Alexis Brion scored a 9.925, giving her a season average of just over 9.9. Senior Alexa Martinez kept the Tide's good fortunes going, pouring in a 9.925. Sterner slammed the door on Nebraska with her 9.975.

Winning the all-around title is becoming commonplace for Sterner this season.

The Tide's 49.6 is its third best floor score ever.

Alabama raced out to a half-point lead going into the third rotation having scored a season best on the vault and tying its season best on the uneven bars with a 49.225 and a 49.275 respectively. Pickens led the Tide and the meet on both events, posting a winning mark of 9.975 on the vault and 9.950 on the uneven bars. Kristin Sterner added a 9.900 to the Tide's vault total, a mark that matched her season best. Sophomore Tiffany Byrd led the Tide off on the uneven bars with a career best 9.85, a mark matched by junior Natalie Barrington.

On the balance beam, the Tide made it through its first four competitors without a hitch. The Tide's fifth competitor, Pickens, fell, but Sterner came back with a season best 9.875 to close out the Tide's set and leading them to a 48.825, .475 better than its previous season best.

After three straight weeks at home, Alabama goes back on the road this weekend, facing LSU in Baton Rouge on Friday, Feb. 8 and Auburn in Birmingham on Sunday, Feb. 10. The Auburn meet will be in the BJCC starting at 2 p.m. For ticket information, call the Alabama Ticket Office at 205.348.BAMA.


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