Alabama Gymnasts Win Regional

LEXINGTON, Ky. – The Alabama gymnastics team won the NCAA Central Regional Championship with a 197.4 in Kentucky's Memorial Coliseum Saturday night, finishing more than a point ahead of second-place Nebraska's 195.875. With the win, the Crimson Tide has now won an NCAA-best 25 regional titles and advances to its 28th consecutive NCAA Championship.

"It never gets old and I'm always appreciative," Alabama Coach Sarah Patterson said. "I think this is the toughest meet of the year because no one wants to end up like Kansas in basketball and some of those teams that were the No. 1 seed but didn't advance to the national championships. From that perspective I'm very grateful."

Following Alabama and Nebraska, Illinois took third with a 195.425, Central Michigan was fourth at 195.125, host-school Kentucky was fifth at 194.975 and Michigan State rounded out the scoring with a 194.475.

"The run that we have had is tremendous and I never take it for granted," Patterson said. "I'm proud of this team. We came out and set the tone on a difficult event, scoring a season high there."

Sophomore Geralen Stack-Eaton won the all-around with a 39.55, the second highest score of her career, while classmate Ashley Priess was second with a 39.525, tying her season high.

"I'm very proud of Geralen and Ashley in the all-around, I thought they did great jobs," Patterson said.

Stack-Eaton and junior Kayla Hoffman tied for top honors on the vault and Stack-Eaton and senior Kassi Price tied for first on the uneven bars. Priess won the balance beam while senior Morgan Dennis won the floor exercise.

"Morgan Dennis on the floor exercise was exceptional and Kayla Hoffman, scoring three 9.9s on three events, she was amazing."

With one rotation left, Alabama was in the driver's seat and well ahead of the field, but that last event, the balance beam, has often separated even great championships. The pressure built when senior Ricki Lebegern fell in the leadoff spot, meaning that Alabama would need to hit its last five routines of the night to ensure a top-end score. Led by Priess' 9.875, the Tide did just that with Stack-Eaton and freshman Marissa Gutierrez both scoring 9.85s, senior Kassi Price adding a 9.8 and Dennis going 9.75.

Alabama got things off to a hot start when it posted its highest floor exercise score of the season, going 49.525 behind Dennis' 9.95 and 9.9s from Stack-Eaton, Hoffman and Priess. The Tide kept things rolling on the next rotation, posting a 49.375 on the vault behind 9.9s from Stack-Eaton and Hoffman and a 9.875 from Priess. The Tide threw out another 49.375 on the uneven bars to keep things in high gear, led by 9.9s from Stack-Eaton and senior Kassi Price and a 9.875 from Priess.

"After floor and vault, we kind of set the standard that we were the team to beat and we just continued it from there" Patterson said.

Alabama is advancing to its 28th consecutive NCAA Championships final site, the second longest streak in collegiate gymnastics history. The final site for this year's national championships is Gainesville, Fla. in the O'Connell Center on the University of Florida campus. This marks the third time Gainesville has hosted the championships and the first since 1997.

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