Alabama freshmen push gymnastics team to victory in season opener

When Alabama gymnastics coach Sarah Patterson raved about her six-member freshman class, that wasn’t just posturing.

The Crimson Tide took down Missouri 197.15 to 193.425 in its season opener Friday in front of 12,971 fans. The Crimson Tide used three freshmen on six routines, showing the rest of the country how deep of a team it can be early on in its quest to win a seventh national championship.

Alabama’s 197.15 is its highest season-opening score in team history.

“This freshman class reminds me of our freshman class,” senior Sarah DeMeo said. “Just the way they’re stepping up off the bat, the first meet. They’re just going to continue to get stronger and more competitive. We’re really proud of them.”

Even with junior Kayla Williams sidelined after falling in warmups and sustaining a foot injury, that didn’t change Patterson’s plans for her freshmen.

Aja Sims, a former member of the USA Junior Olympic Team who only joined the team a day after Christmas, scored 9.825 on balance beam. Amanda Jetter co-led the team with a 9.925 on uneven bars.

But the most impressive of the trio was Katie Bailey, who competed in all four routines in her first meet as an Alabama gymnast. Bailey’s lowest score was a 9.775 on beam. She scored 9.825 on vault, 9.875 on bars and 9.85 on floor to finish a stellar debut.

“I thought Katie Bailey did a great job, but I expected that from Katie,” Patterson said. “She’s a stud competitor, and I knew that. That’s one of the reasons why we wanted her to come to the University.”

It remains to be seen how serious the injury is to Williams, who was voted by her teammates as one of three leaders. But establishing depth early in the season is a luxury for Patterson, as she searches for her top six gymnasts on each event.

“I thought this was an amazing start,” senior Kim Jacob said. “I’m so proud of the freshmen. And the seniors, juniors and sophomores for stepping up when Kayla went down. We were all upset. We don’t want any of our teammates to get hurt. But I think we used that, we were competing for Kayla tonight. It was an amazing start.”

A UA spokesman said that after filling up their designated seats, more than 1,000 extra students were overflowed throughout the rest of the arena.

“Our students are amazing,” Patterson said. “When the doors opened up two hours ahead of time, and the lower level, they started packing it in. I can’t express my appreciation enough to our fans, but certainly to the University students. That’s a pretty great sign of support.”

Alabama opened the meet with a solid 49.3 on the vault, led by 2013 NCAA vault champion Diandra Milliner’s 9.925. On uneven bars, the Crimson Tide posted a 49.475, better than it did on bars in any meet last season.

Jacob saved Alabama on balance beam, finishing with a 9.875. Alabama’s 49.075 on beam was lower than all but three beam routines last season. Alabama finished strong on floor with a 49.3, led by Diandra Milliner’s 9.95, which one judge scored a 10.

DeMeo competed in the all around for the first time in her career, earning a 39.1. Jacob won the all around with a 39.525.

“Kim continues to be a rock for us,” Patterson said. “I thought her floor routine was exceptionally great.”

Alabama will hit the road next week, traveling to Knoxville, Tenn., for a tri-meet with Kentucky and Nebraska.

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