Finding their balance

Jason Galloway

There is no question the Alabama gymnastics team lacks experience.

But it only took one meet for the Crimson Tide’s freshman class to showcase what they do have: talent, poise and confidence.

Last Friday, against Penn State, Alabama’s first two balance beam competitors fell, putting the remaining four gymnasts on the event under intense pressure to land their routines.

“I love to do beam, and I love that it’s difficult,” said freshman Sarah DeMeo, one of those four. “I love showing off the difficulty, especially because I’m capable of doing it.”

Instead of posting a devastating third straight fall, freshman Kim Jacob posted a solid 9.8. Two routines later, DeMeo scored a 9.925, good enough to earn the No. 1 national ranking on beam.

After counting a fall and throwing freshmen into nearly half of its routines, the Tide won its season opener by more than two and a half points and posted the ninth best score in the country for week one.

“This is probably the youngest team in our 33 years of coaching that we’ve put on the floor,” head coach Sarah Patterson said. “We replaced [16] routines from the national championships last year. [But] I know this team has an opportunity to be great.”

Other coaches must agree with Patterson. Alabama was ranked No. 2 in the preseason coaches’ poll, despite losing a senior class full of All-Americans and Ashley Priess to injury.

Jacob and DeMeo took the place of top gymnasts like Morgan Dennis and Ricki Lebegern from last season, competing in the all around in just their first collegiate meet. Diandra Milliner, who just enrolled at Alabama, received a 9.95 from one judge for her vault performance Friday before she ever stepped foot in a college classroom.

“The first day she vaulted, after she did a warm-up vault … Kayla [Hoffman] said, ‘She can stay,’” Patterson said.

Hoffman is one of the Tide’s few seniors and ranks second in the nation in the all around.

“[Milliner] is an amazing athlete and a great competitor, and we knew that,” Patterson said. “The kid loves to compete.”

Although the Tide’s overall score was ninth in the nation last week after coming into the season ranked No. 2, Friday’s victory against Penn State was an encouraging one.

“I didn’t expect us to be perfect just because there were so many new routines,” Patterson said. “But I wanted a great starting point, and I think we got that. I feel like [the freshmen] were very prepared, and I thought they stayed calm and confident, and that’s what we asked them to do.”

Alabama will take its youth to Arkansas tonight to take on the No. 10 Razorbacks, a team with two gymnasts ranked in the top 12 in the all around.

Patterson said she would have liked to do more in practice this week, but she wanted to get the gymnasts in and out of practice because of the snowy weather.

“We picked the freshmen up on Monday because they couldn’t get out of the parking deck,” she said.

Despite the setbacks, Patterson said junior Geralen Stack-Eaton, who only competed on beam last week, might find her way into the vault lineup at Arkansas. Patterson also said Jacob could have a new pass on the floor exercise, although that is questionable since she has been sick this week.

Tonight’s meet will begin at 7 p.m. in Fayetteville, Ark. Live stats can be accessed at gymtide.com.