Senior leads Tide in straight lines

Senior+leads+Tide+in+straight+lines

Jason Galloway

When Kayla Hoffman wanted to leave elite-level gymnastics and accept a scholarship to the University of Alabama, her coaches had plenty of reasons to convince her otherwise.

Her lines were perfect. The new scoring system would benefit a gymnast like her. College gymnastics just isn’t as competitive.

“Everybody wanted me to stay in the program,” Hoffman said. “I felt like I was being called to [go to Alabama]. I eventually just had to say, ‘No. I’m going to enjoy college, and I’m really excited to go compete for a college team.’”

Now the Crimson Tide’s only senior competing in the all around, Hoffman has no regrets and has taken on a new leadership role on this year’s team.

Alabama lost All-Americans Morgan Dennis, Kassi Price and Ricki Lebegern to graduation last year, and junior Ashley Priess – another All-American – is expected to be out until at least March. This has forced Hoffman to become the anchor of a team that gets about half its competition routines from freshmen.

“Just being a senior is a little more of a responsibility,” Hoffman said, “and having a young class puts it on the upperclassmen in general to lead the team and show them the ropes.”

Head coach Sarah Patterson said, “She does [have a new role], but we’re not trying to make her role anything different. As coaches, we are not trying to overwhelm her. She thinks about everything, and we’re not trying to let her over-think.”

Hoffman started the season by winning the all-around against Penn State with a 39.5. In three meets this season, she has scored 9.9 or higher four times, including a 9.95 on vault in a nail-biting, comeback victory at Arkansas on Jan. 14.

According to Patterson, she performs like a different gymnast than the one Patterson recruited out of New Jersey four years ago. Patterson said the only thing Hoffman hasn’t improved on is her lines, because they were already perfect when she came to the Capstone.

“Her consistency, everything about her performance-based has improved tremendously,” Patterson said. “I would watch Kayla in high school warm up on bars and miss the same release move five times in a row. The confidence she has now, and how steady she can be, compared to where she was when she got here, is tremendous.”

Patterson isn’t the only one that has taken note of Hoffman’s confidence level throughout the first three meets of this season.

“You can tell she has more confidence this year,” junior Geralen Stack-Eaton said. “She trained really hard in the fall and you could tell she was on a mission this year.”

Hoffman and No. 6 Alabama (3-0) will continue that mission this Saturday in Fort Worth, Texas, as the Tide competes in the Metroplex Challenge, a quad meet against LSU, Nebraska and Missouri.