Tide bounces back against Florida

Laura Owens

The No. 2 Alabama gymnastics team (6-1, 4-1 SEC) defeated the No. 6 Florida Gators (4-2, 3-1 SEC) 197.425- 196.6 Friday night in Coleman Coliseum. Despite questionable weather conditions earlier that day, attendance was still more than 12,000.

“I think the main focus was improving on our performance on the uneven bars, and if you made a mistake, you kept going,” said head coach Sarah Patterson. “We didn’t let it get in our head… And really, I can’t say enough about the over-12,000 people that came when everything’s closed. I think that’s a tribute to these athletes that the people showed up.”

The last time these two teams met in the regular season was in Gainesville, Fla., in 2009, with the Gators winning by more than a point. Since Florida hired its current head coach, Rhonda Faehn, in 2003, these teams have alternated regular-season wins, each team winning at home.

After each team had taken a turn on both the vault and the uneven bars, the Tide led the running total 98.675- 98.350. The Tide got a great start on the vault. Senior Ricki Lebegern, who ranks No. 19 nationally on the vault, came out particularly strong, with the team’s high vault score of 9.975.One of the judges gave Lebegern a perfect 10.0. The other judge’s score of 9.95 averaged her overall score out.

On uneven bars, three different gymnasts scored a 9.875, giving the team a big edge over the Gators’ own bars score.

Before the final round, the Tide was up by more than half a point. Sophomore Ashley Priess’ performance on the balance beam especially helped Alabama, earning a 9.95 from both judges. Nationally, Priess is ranked No. 1 on beam.

“Every time before I mount the beam, I kind of stand there and take deep breaths,” she said,“and I just pray to God that he will give me the strength to get through my routine.”

While Alabama was on the floor and Florida took the balance beam, the Tide was able to make the final push forward to win the meet by almost a full point.

For the night, sophomore Geralen Stack-Eaton had the highest all-around score in the meet with 39.625, which was also her career best score.

“It’s a really neat thing because not everybody gets to do all around,” she said. “I just like it because I get to show diversity, and it’s a fun time out there.”

After last week’s loss to LSU, Patterson said she felt like her team responded to the challenge of overcoming the loss.

“I think the ladies did a good job,” she said. “Sometimes teams can get down, and this team picked themselves up, and I think that’s the sign of a true champion.”

This meet against Florida will air on ESPN2 February 21 at 10:30 a.m. Next up for the Tide is No. 21 Arizona on Feb. 19. The meet begins at 7:30 p.m. This is also the Power of Pink meet, honoring those who have survived breast cancer. The team will be making a donation of $100,000 to DCH Medical Center breast cancer fund.

“This is going to be an incredible meet,” Patterson said. “We’re going to have people wearing 6,000 t-shirts. I just think the power of pink initiative you see all over the country, it all started here six years ago.”