Alabama Gymnasts Advance To Super Six

ATHENS, Ga. – The Alabama Gymnastics team advanced to Friday's NCAA Super Six Team Finals after finishing second in the first of Thursday's two preliminary sessions at the NCAA Championships being held in Stegeman Coliseum on the University of Georgia campus this week.

Alabama, making its 26th consecutive NCAA Championship appearance, used a 196.650 to advance, following Florida's 196.925 and ahead of LSU's 196.575. Oklahoma was fourth with a 196.075, followed by Arkansas, 195.825, and Oregon State, 195.475.

The Crimson Tide returns to the Super Six a year after not advancing to finals for the first time in a decade. The Tide finished fifth in its session last year in Salt Lake City, taking ninth overall. It marked only the second time since 1983 that Alabama had not finished among the nation's top six.

"Obviously we are thrilled to be back on this podium as part of the Super Six," Alabama Coach Sarah Patterson said after Thursday afternoon's session. "I am so pleased with our ladies. We started out tough on beam and had to come back with a special effort. I just knew we'd come through together. Sometimes the best things happen when you have mistakes."

There will be at least three Southeastern Conference teams in tomorrow night's finals and likely four with Georgia, the three-time defending champion, likely to advance tonight. Alabama, a solid team at midseason, has made great strides since early March as it proved at the SEC Championships, when it finished second to No. 1 UGA by .025 and again today when it powered through some mistakes to advance to finals.

"This is a special group of young ladies," Patterson said. "We are thrilled to represent our university and this great conference. The closeness of scores (today) was the same as we had at the SEC meet. Tomorrow we'll start all over. It's a whole new ballgame."

Sophomore Casey Overton led the Tide to a 48.85 on the balance beam, scoring a 9.825 from the lead off. Her score ended up being one of the highest of the session, tying her for sixth overall. Alabama battled through its beam set, overcoming an uncharecteristic fall by junior Ashley O'Neal in the second spot, and working for every tenth through out each routine.

"We knew we didn't perform our best on beam," senior Kaitlin White said. "But we just stuck together and had great teamwork. We're very excited to be back."

After sitting on a bye for the second rotation, Alabama moved to the floor exercise, posting a 49.3, the second highest score of the session, led by sophomore Morgan Dennis' meet-leading 9.925. The floor gave way to the vault where freshman Kayla Hoffman scored a 9.9 to lead the Tide to a 49.125.

Alabama finished off the day with some drama on the uneven bars. After starting off with a 9.825 from senior Kaitlin White and a 9.85 from sophomore Ricki Lebegern, Overton came off the bars, scoring a 9.3. Alabama had to hit its next three routines to be guaranteed a spot in Friday's finals. The Tide answered with Dennis scoring a 9.9, Hoffman a 9.875 and sophomore Kassi Price posting a 9.925 to clinch second and send the Tide to the finals.

"Our third bar position has been our most difficult all season. I had no doubt the next three were going to make their routines. Kassi Price was a star today. There was no way she was coming off those bars."

Championship host Georgia will be joined by Utah, UCLA, Michigan, Stanford and Denver in tonight's evening session, which starts at 6 p.m. CDT, to determine the other three teams to advance to the team finals.

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