DULUTH, Ga. – Once just wasn’t enough.
The No. 4-seed Alabama gymnastics team won its sixth national championship on Saturday and 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,” head coach Sarah 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 SECs. In the semi-finals on Friday, the Tide finished just .025 ahead of the Gators – the smallest margin possible.
And heading in to 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 Ashley Priess, just one year removed from 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.”
Alabama got off to a hot start on the night, scoring a 49.45 on the floor exercise. Stack-Eaton led the way with a 9.95 – the highest floor score of the weekend. Then, the Tide went to the vault, where it posted a 49.625 – its highest event total of the night.
“We really had a great night,” Patterson said. “We rocked on the first two events.”
The third rotation did not go so smoothly.
After sitting out a round with a bye, trouble struck on the uneven bars when DeMeo missed and only scored a 9.575. But all five remaining gymnasts hit their routines, narrowly avoiding what would have been a season-crushing result.
“Bars wasn’t our best event tonight but we still did a great job,” Priess said. “We never settled for less than our best. Even with less than perfect routines we continue to fight.”
And fight they did, edging out Florida to eventually win the national championship.
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.”