Regionals on tap for Tide gymnastics
by Brett Hudson
Mar 25, 2013 | 3879 views |  0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
TUSCALOOSA — As the two-time defending national champion Alabama gymnastics team huddled around a computer in its practice facility for the announcement of which teams it would be facing in the Tuscaloosa Regional, there was no frantic rush to find game-plan materials.

There was no recollection of previous meets against those teams. Not even a reaction, not a single smile, to having its NCAA postseason fate sealed with good news.

As senior leader Ashley Priess said, “We’re not in a contact sport or anything like that. Their gymnastics doesn’t affect what we do.”

The talk in the room was excitement, readiness. On to the next one.

Top-seeded Alabama will host second-seeded Utah, third-seeded Denver, Iowa State, Brigham Young and Kent State on April 6 at 6 p.m., with the top two teams moving on to the NCAA championship meet April 19-21 in Los Angeles.

Alabama is aiming to add to its collection of 27 regional titles, which is the most in the NCAA. And the Tide gets to do it in front of its home fans at Coleman Coliseum, an opportunity looming large on their minds.

The Tide enters on a roll. Despite finishing second in the SEC championship meet behind Florida, Alabama set a season high with a 197.800.

“I thought we did an amazing job,” Jacob said. “I was so proud of the team with the way we handled adversity with people coming in and out of the lineup.”

Added Priess: “I think our performance at SECs really wowed us. It proves how great of a team we are. I can guarantee you this team is going to work our tails off to get even better.”

But now the Tide gets some time off, serving as both a saving grace and its worst enemy.

The first Friday night away from competition since mid-January gives key performers such as Marissa Gutierrez and Ashley Sledge time to recover from injuries in time for what is being labeled as the season’s most important meet.

“(My ankle) is definitely a little sore after the weekend, I pushed to get back to where I could vault again, so I’m going to use these days to rest and rehab a lot more,” Gutierrez said.

Of the teams heading to Tuscaloosa for the regional, only two have won national championships: Alabama (six) and Utah (nine).

Those two squads, Georgia (10) and UCLA (six) are the only schools to win NCAA women’s gymnastics titles.

“I think you’re seeing two of the most historic programs in NCAA women’s gymnastics,” Alabama coach Sarah Patterson said. “I’m glad we’re hosting. I think Denver was one of the up-and-coming programs a few years ago, and they’ve done a great job.”

Hosting the regional will require making Alabama season-ticket holders aware they don’t have an automatic seat at this meet. Also, there are no free student tickets, as there are in the regular season.

“One if the biggest things is getting our fans to purchase those tickets since they weren’t part of the season ticket package,” Patterson said. “Our medalist club stepped up and bought 2,000 student tickets, because students don’t get in free, so the first 2,000 students that get in, get in free. I think it’s amazing that we have that kind of support.”

AU heads to regionals, too

Auburn will participate in the Gainesville Regional, which is hosted by Florida.

The Gators are the top seed, while Auburn and Minnesota are expected to battle for the second berth in the NCAA championship meet. Maryland, Pittsburgh and Bridgeport also will participate in the meet.

“Obviously, I think it’s going to be a very difficult regional,” Auburn head coach Jeff Graba said. “Basically we finished tied with Minnesota and Florida is the top seed overall. I’m excited because we know it’s going to be a good competition. Our team has been really good when we’ve been on the floor with good competition. I think it’s about us staying in our bubble, keeping our heads down and doing what we normally do.”

The regional berth is the 21st all-time for the Tigers. Auburn has reached 11 straight regionals.
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