Tide Gymnasts Finish Fifth

For the first time since 1997, the Alabama Gymnastics team will not advance to Friday's Super Six team finals after finishing fifth in the preliminary session of today's NCAA Championships preliminaries.

"I am personally devastated," head coach Sarah Patterson said. "This only the second time that we have not advanced to the Super Six and only the second time in the 25 consecutive years that we've qualified for the NCAA Championships that we won't finish in the final six."

The Crimson Tide scored a 196.150, its lowest score since a Feb. 10 loss to Georgia in Athens. Georgia, 197.700, Florida, 197.400, and Nebraska, 196.625, advanced to tomorrow night's finals. Oklahoma, 196.250, finished fourth while Oklahoma State, 195.1, rounded out the afternoon session.

"My hat's off to Georgia, Florida and Nebraska," Patterson said. "They did what they needed to do to advance. Georgia especially did a great job in the midst of their own difficulties with injuries. Had we done our job, we could have advanced. The teams that are moving on did that."

Alabama has finished in the top six nationally every year except 1997 and 2007. Alabama was ninth at the 1997 championships held in Gainesville, Fla. Patterson and company will be in the stands tomorrow, watching as the 2007 champion is crowned.

"For us, next season starts tomorrow," Patterson said.

Alabama was again using a patched together lineup. Freshman Kassi Price, who opened the season by winning the all-around in three straight meets, was limited to just the uneven bars today after a knee injury on the practice day of the NCAA Central Regional Championships. Sophomore Ashley O'Neal, who had been doing three events much of the season, was only on the floor exercise here due to a knee injury that slowed her over the second half of the season.

Those problems exacerbated the Crimson Tide's depth problems that started when a star signee deferred enrollment to pursue a spot on the U.S. National Team and only got worse when All-American Melanie Banville retired from gymnastics due to an ongoing back problem. The Tide then lost freshman Jacqueline Shealy for the season due to a torn ACL in the first meet of the season and discovered that sophomore Courtney Priess' ongoing back problems would sideline her for the year.

Still, Alabama managed to put together a strong regular season, going undefeated at home and staying in the top-5 all season long. The Tide was third at the Southeastern Conference Championships behind only the nation's top two teams in No. 1 Florida and No. 2 Georgia. Alabama posted a 196.6 to win its 22nd NCAA regional title and advance to its 25th consecutive NCAA Championship, a streak surpassed only by Utah, which has been to all 26.

Today though, Alabama had problems right out of the gate with season low floor exercise, 48.85, and vault, 49.050, scores in its first two rotations.

On the floor exercise the Tide was led by a 9.9 from Dennis in the anchor spot and 9.775s from junior Kaitlin White and O'Neal. Junior Terin Humphrey scored a 9.675 after being hit with a one-tenth deduction for stepping out of bounds. Lebegern, a rock for the Tide over the second half of the season, had the first of two falls on the day.

"It was a struggle all day, from the first event on," Patterson said. "That's all I can say. My heart aches for Ricki Lebegern because she has been a little rock for us all season and today she performed like a freshman at the start of a season."

Dennis again led the Tide on the vault, posting a 9.875 while sophomore Brittany Magee scored a 9.85 in the leadoff spot. Lebegern posted a 9.825 while White, Humphrey and freshman Casey Overton scored 9.75s.

The Tide posted a 49.125 on the uneven bars behind a 9.9 from Humphrey and a 9.85 from Price in her first routine since the Southeastern Conference Championships. Dennis went 9.825 and sophomore Cassie Martin scored a 9.8.

Alabama finished off the day with a solid 49.100 on the balance beam highlighted by freshman Casey Overton's lead off 9.85 and Humphrey's 9.9 from the anchor spot.

The rest of Friday's field will be filled out by the top three teams from this evening's session, which gets underway at 7 p.m. MDT and features Utah, UCLA, LSU, Stanford, Michigan and Denver.

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