After facing the current No. 4, No. 10 and No. 13 teams nationally in a row to start the season, the Tide returns home to face the No. 3 Florida Gators on Friday in arguably its toughest meet of the season so far.
The Gators come in to Tuscaloosa boasting the third-best average score in the country at 196.563. They also posted the highest score in the country so far this season at home on Friday: 197.775 in a quad meet win.
“Based on talent, on their roster, I think they are the most talented team in the country. I’d put them at number one,” Alabama head coach Sarah Patterson said. “For me, to see what they did last week, 197.775, that’s exactly what I expected from them. They’re that talented.”
If the team needed any extra motivation, it would simply have to look back to last year when the Gators handed the Tide its only loss of its national championship season.
“I know that was a turning point in the season last year,” senior Ashley Priess said. “We’re fired up for this meet, and we’d like nothing more than to beat them here in Coleman [Coliseum] with our home crowd.”
The Tide suffered a number of mental mistakes in last year’s meet, including a fall on the uneven bars and balance beam in addition to one gymnast getting a half-point deduction for starting a routine too early.
Patterson wants to make sure that doesn’t happen again this year and is stressing attention to detail in this week’s preparation.
“For us, it’s coming out and doing what Auburn did [last week] in Auburn, and that’s execution,” she said. “Whatever we’re doing, we just need to do it to the best of our abilities.”
And the Tide may have to do it without one of its best gymnasts.
Senior Geralen Stack-Eaton, who scored a perfect 10.0 on her vault against Georgia and the current No. 2 in the country on vault behind teammate Ashley Sledge, sustained a mild concussion in warm-ups before Alabama’s meet in Auburn.
Stack-Eaton was held out of any activity on Sunday and Monday, but was back in the gym on Wednesday. She is still considered day-to-day and is questionable for Friday’s meet.
“If you were to get her on one or two events, great,” Patterson said. “But right now, we prepare mentally all week long for someone else to be in the lineup. That’s how you prepare.”
Priess said competing in Auburn without Stack-Eaton was actually beneficial for the Tide, as they had to come together and overcome adversity to get the win.
“Those are the moments that help us grow in the end,” Priess said. “It’s not just Geralen’s job to win the meet, it’s all of our job. It’s the six people that are competing in each event, and it’s the cheerleaders on the side. It’s a team effort and everybody matters.”
The team feels no need to rush Stack-Eaton back in the lineup because concussions are an unpredictable injury and her long-term health is the first priority.
“We’ll prepare the same either way,” Jacob said. “We really hope she can compete this weekend. But if it’s not for her safety, we want to keep her back because we know we need her later in the season.”