Gymnasts Go For Title

With the practice day at the 24th annual NCAA Gymnastics Championships in the books, Alabama is ready to make its run at a fifth national championship. The Crimson Tide is making its 23rd consecutive appearance at the NCAA Championships, starting Thursday at 7 p.m. when it will face five other teams in attempt to move on to Friday night's team finals.

Three teams from each of the two preliminary sessions on Thursday will advance to the Super Six. Alabama, which won the 2002, 1996, 1991 and 1988 NCAA Team Championships, Alabama enjoys a rich history of success at these championships, finishing in the top-10 every year since 1983, a stretch that includes 19 top-4 finishes.

Alabama has also never lost an NCAA Championship hosted in the state of Alabama, winning the 2002, 1996 and 1991 national championships in Tuscaloosa. This meet is in the state of Alabama, but at Auburn. Although Auburn did not make the field as a team, four Tigers gymnasts are competing individually.

"Obviously we are excited to be here in the state of Alabama," Bama Coach Sarah Patterson said. "Although we have made it 23 consecutive times, it never gets to be old. I am excited about it this year just like I was my first year. I can say from experience that the quality always seems to improve. There has never been any more quality here than this year. Legitimately, there are eight-to-nine teams who could win it. It is exciting and fun for athletes, coaches and fans alike."

Coaches Sarah and David Patterson, in their 27th season leading the Crimson Tide, bring a veteran team to this year's championships, including three-time NCAA Champion Ashley Miles and All-America seniors Alexis Brion and Shannon Hrozek, along with junior All-America Mari Bayer.

Miles won three individual titles at the 2005 SEC Championships and four at the NCAA Central Regional.

"We have made it 23 times, and I have been here for three of those times," Miles said. "It never gets old. The Regionals are like a basketball game and now this is the final few minutes. The quality of competition here is great."

Freshman Terin Humprey, a two-time silver medalist at this summer's Olympic Games as part of the U.S. squad, won the SEC and NCAA Central Region uneven bars titles.

"Terin is extremely excited about being here," Sarah Patterson said. "She has spent a lot of time in the gym. When we were at the SEC Championship and had a fall, I remember her telling me when she came up next that she felt more pressure at that moment than she did at the Olympics. I think that speaks volumes about collegiate gymnastics."

The Tide comes into this year's championships healthy and primed. Alabama has finished in the top-3 the last three years, including a third place finish a year ago. This is the first time that Auburn has hosted the NCAA Gymnastics Championships.

"We compete here regularly, but this looks so different from a dual meet," Sarah Patterson said. "Obviously, we will have a lot of fans here but Georgia, LSU and Florida will also have respectable numbers. When you spend all the time, effort and energy putting this championship together, obviously you want to be involved. I was pulling for Auburn at the Regionals because I know they wanted to be here. I was pleased to see that they have four people competing."

The afternoon session starts at 1 p.m. and will feature Utah, LSU, Michigan, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Penn State. The evening session starts at 7 p.m. and will feature Alabama, two-time defending champion UCLA, Georgia, Florida, Iowa State and BYU. For ticket information, contact the Auburn Ticket Office at (1-800-282-1957) or online at www.auburntigers.com


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