Alabama gymnastics senior Ashley Priess will return for a fifth year of competition, the team announced on Tuesday. Priess did not compete during the 2011 season, sitting out after surgery on both of her ankles, meaning she has an extra year of eligibility that she elected to use.
“I feel like Ashley deserved another senior year because she’s worked so hard to get back to this point,” head coach Sarah Patterson said.
Priess initially said she would not return for a fifth year, even though the option was always open for her. But as the year progressed, her ankles healed faster than she initially expected.
“I just think this is a sport where anything can happen and it’s really hard to plan ahead because this sport is just so unpredictable,” Priess said. “I’ve gotten healthier and healthier to the point where I’m probably healthier than I was when I was 16 years old.”
Priess was the hero of the NCAA Championship on Saturday, scoring a 9.95 on her last event to clinch the Tide’s sixth national championship. After such a memorable ending to her senior season, she talked to Patterson and her teammates, ultimately deciding that she did not want her Alabama gymnastics career to be over.
“I just enjoyed the journey so much that I just want to do it again,” she said.
The announcement only strengthens Alabama’s chances to win a third straight national championship. Senior Geralen Stack-Eaton will graduate, but with Priess returning, the Tide will return not only a gymnast capable of competing in all four events, but a veteran leader.
“Talent is one thing, but the leadership and maturity that she has gained through these four years is what makes her such a remarkable competitor and team member,” Patterson said. “We’re getting the complete package back next year.”
Priess has already started work on a master’s degree in sports management and plans to graduate in May 2013.