The No. 4-seed Alabama gymnastics team won its sixth national championship on Saturday and its second in two years — all under head coach Sarah Patterson. The Tide turned in a 197.85 that beat the No. 1 Florida Gators’ score by just .075.
“It was just a great moment for everybody, to know that we put everything out on the floor and that we had no regrets,” senior Geralen Stack-Eaton said. “It’s just an amazing feeling to know that we’ve won another national championship.”
“I couldn’t be more proud of our athletes,” Patterson said. “We really had a great night.”
Patterson had won five national championships before Saturday, but none had ever come in consecutive years.
The win also ties Patterson with legendary Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, who won six national championships as head football coach.
“I just feel like the gymnastics program is a small part of the rich history and tradition of the University of Alabama,” Patterson said. “And I could not be more proud to be a part of it.”
But number six did not come easy.
The NCAA Championships came down to the final event. Florida and Alabama had gone head-to-head all season, with Alabama winning in Coleman Coliseum and the Gators taking the Southeastern Conference Championship. In the semi-finals on Friday, the Tide finished just .025 ahead of the Gators — the smallest margin possible.
Heading into the last rotation, Alabama trailed the Gators by .025.
After sophomore Sarah DeMeo scored a 9.775 on the balance beam, it was up to Stack-Eaton and fellow senior Ashley Priess to win it for the Tide.
Stack-Eaton scored a 9.9, and Priess, just one year removed from her ankle surgery that kept her out of the 2011 championship run, came up big with a 9.95 to secure the national championship.
“There are really no words to describe that feeling, but a happy ending is probably the best way we can,” Priess said. “Before Geralen and I went on beam, it was totally a God moment. We both prayed together and turned it over to God that He would take care of those routines if it was meant to be.”
Florida was finished on the floor before Priess’ routine, and she knew she needed a high score to win.
“It was in my mind that it could be that close, but as soon as that thought about scores gets in my head, I immediately try to shut it out and say, ‘No, stop thinking about that,’” she said. “All I can control is what I’m going to do on beam, so that was the only thing in my thought process.”
The balance beam is generally considered the hardest event of the competition, and having the Tide compete on beam last was supposed to be a disadvantage. On Friday night, in the preliminaries, the Georgia Bulldogs — one of the favorites to win the national championship — fell three times on six beam rotations, ending their season much earlier than expected.
To add to the suspense, the Gators were the top floor team in the country coming into the championship weekend, setting the two teams up for a photo finish.
“I was more in tune with what our athletes were doing on balance beam,” Patterson said. “It wasn’t until the very end that I realized that our scores had matched up with theirs pretty well and it was going to come down to that last routine.”
Sometimes, defending a national championship can be a curse, but for Alabama, it turned out to be a blessing. The Tide knew what it took to win under pressure and came through in a big way.
Not that there weren’t any roadblocks along the way.
“It’s a lot harder the second time. There were times when I felt like the ladies were complacent, and I had to give them a little kick, and they responded each time,” Patterson said. “One of our quotes was, ‘Are you satisfied, or are you hungry?’ Because you can’t be both. You’ve got to pick one.”
Now, Patterson will set out to do what even Bryant couldn’t — win three national championships in a row. It is certainly a daunting task; however, it’s one that is very achievable for a coach of Patterson’s pedigree.
But that will have to wait for another day.
“I’m not even thinking about that,” Patterson said. “I’m going to take a little while, and we’re going to enjoy this.”
Filed Under: Gymnastics