The defending NCAA Champions open their season this Saturday (Jan. 11) with the annual Super Six Challenge, the first of four straight road meets for the Tide. The Challenge, which starts at 4 p.m. ET, will be held in Stegeman Coliseum on the University of Georgia campus.
This year's Alabama squad, 14-gymnasts strong, is the 25th for coaches Sarah and David Patterson. The Patterson's started coaching the Tide in 1978 and have since taken Alabama to 20 consecutive NCAA Championships, winning four.
This season, with one of their youngest squads ever, the Pattersons have focused on the basics early on in the season, but predict a steep learning curve over the first several weeks of the season.
"I think we improved tremendously just by having the "Meet the Team" exhibition Sunday," Sarah Patterson said. "I think we did very well and that really helped their confidence. We're at that point in the season where more practice isn't going to help us a whole lot. We need to get out there and compete."
In this four-meet, three-week road swing, the coaching staff is looking for a marked improvement.
"We're going to be pretty solid on the uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise," said David Patterson. "But I think you'll find that in three or four weeks we are going to be much improved across the board."
Alabama won the inaugural Challenge in 2000, which was also held in Athens, and tied with Georgia for top honors in 2001. Last season the Tide finished second to Georgia and ahead of UCLA.
There are seven freshmen on the 2003 edition of the Tide, including five who could see action this weekend.
"This is the largest freshmen class we've ever had," Sarah Patterson said. "We spent quite a lot of time this fall on the basics of time management, teamwork and that kind of thing. I think we spent the first couple of weeks of practice just trying to find the gym."
Of the freshmen class, Mari Bayer, Ashley Miles and Dana Pierce should make their Tide debut this weekend, going in as many as three events each. Fellow rookies Dana Filetti and Larissa Stewart might see action on the uneven bars this weekend.
In addition to the rookies, Alabama has three sophomores, three juniors and lone senior Kristin Sterner on its 2003 roster. Sterner, a nine-time All-American, was elected team captain of the 2002 national championship squad.
The Tide returns three other All-Americans in addition to Sterner. Junior Jeana Rice, an eight-time All-American, is likely see all-around duty at the Super Six Challenge.
"Jeana has really looked good this fall," Sarah Patterson said. "I think she was probably ready to go all-around as early as Thanksgiving."
Sophomore Alexis Brion, a two-time All-American last season, has been working on coming back from off-season ankle surgery and will not compete this weekend. Sophomore All-American Shannon Hrozek could see duty in up to three events in the season opener. Michelle Reeser, who saw limited duty on the floor exercise as a freshman, is likely to see duty on three events this weekend after a strong summer of training.
"I don't know that I have ever had anyone come in and work as hard in the off season as Michelle did over this past summer," Sarah Patterson said. "She was the first one to put a full floor routine together this fall. She is ready to get this season going."
From the junior class, Stephanie Kite, a regular on one and sometimes two events last season could go on as many as three events in the season opener, while Lauren Holdefer could go on one or two events.
While the Crimson Tide is on its road swing, hometown fans can buy season tickets from the Alabama Ticket Office (205.348.2262) located in the front of Coleman Coliseum or online at rolltide.com.