Coming off a big road loss to LSU and trailing Georgia after three rotations at home, it would have been easy for the Crimson Tide to cut its losses and look to next week.
Instead, Alabama finished with a bang on floor and came away with a huge victory as the season ramped into high gear.
The No. 7 Crimson Tide blew its season high score out of the water and was aided by two falls from Georgia on balance beam. It narrowly avoided its first home loss since 2009 and took down the No. 5 Bulldogs 197.5 to 196.825 in front of a rowdy Coleman Coliseum crowd.
“I felt like because some teams might have been discouraged that they lost by almost a point at LSU, and we didn’t have a bad meet,” Alabama coach Sarah Patterson said. “So I think for them to come in and step it up like this, I think mentally, that is what we need right now. And sometimes you need a reinforcement. Because every week they come in and work really hard. Now this is the reinforcement. What we did worked, and we just need to continue it.”
Trailing by just .05 heading into the final rotation, Alabama got two scores of 9.95 from seniors Kim Jacob and Diandra Milliner, followed closely by scores of 9.925 from senior Sarah DeMeo and sophomore Lauren Beers that brought the crowd to its feet.
Alabama’s 49.625 team score on floor was higher than any single rotation this season by .15.
Georgia’s Brittany Rogers and Sarah Persinger suffered back-to-back falls on balance beam that put the Bulldog win out of reach.
“I was really proud of Lauren tonight,” Jacob said. “She’s stepped it up. She’s been working so hard in the gym, just get in on every event to push everyone harder. She went out there tonight and did her job.”
Patterson said she is still tinkering with her lineup, mixing in four freshmen on nine routines tonight. She held freshman Katie Bailey out of the all-around for the first time all season and didn’t put Jacob on all four rotations either.
And as the Crimson Tide enters the grueling part of its schedule – at Auburn, a quad meet with Oklahoma and Michigan, and home against Florida – Alabama has something to build off of as it looks to get back to the top of the NCAA world.
“And I just feel like this is what our schedule is going to be like,” Patterson said. “Our next three meets will be exactly like this. We go down to Auburn, and it’s going to be just this tight. And then Oklahoma, No. 2 team in the country. And then Florida.
“I feel like even though last week we had some mistakes, and LSU was better on that night, I was so proud of how the ladies have, each week when we come back in the gym on Sunday, they’ve responded, and I think tonight they saw the difference and how we got better. We’re still not as good as we can be, but we got better. And they finished strong.”
Finishing strong will be the point of emphasis in the coming weeks, since low starts have plagued Alabama this season.
“I think we need to figure out how to start meets how we end meets,” Milliner said. “Because we’re ending them really great. We just need to have that momentum through the whole meet.”
Milliner’s 9.925 led Alabama on vault, but Georgia, the No. 1 bars team in the country entering the weekend, held a full tenth-of-a-point lead after the first rotation. The Crimson Tide closed the gap in the second rotation on uneven bars, with senior Kaitlyn Clark’s 9.925 and senior Kim Jacob’s 9.9.
In the third rotation, Alabama and Georgia turned in identical scores of 49.225 to keep it close heading into the final round.
(See also: “NCAA gymnastics rivals face off in Tuscaloosa“)