The Battle Plan

Feb. 19, 2014

YOU Can Make The Difference

Last Saturday afternoon, I watched our 16th-ranked women's tennis team take an impressive, hard-fought victory over 10th-ranked Virginia at the beautiful Roberta Alison Baumgardner Tennis Facility. Coach Jenny Mainz's squad withstood a late rally, winning the match 4-3 after it looked as if the Cavs had come back to steal a victory. As impressed as I was by the grit and determination of our ladies on the court, something I heard about after the match made an even greater impression.

One of Virginia's top players remarked afterward that our Crimson Tide crowd that day was "the best crowd that I've ever played in front of." What she was describing was an intense, boisterous near-capacity crowd that, while being supportive of the Tide, did not conduct itself in unsportsmanlike fashion. As one who was there, I can tell you that the atmosphere at that match was electric. Not only did it reinforce my belief that we have the classiest and most supportive fan base in America, but it also affirmed my belief that our fans can make the difference for every sport in which we compete.

As a side note, you should know that the University of Virginia tennis programs have emerged among the nation's best over the past decade and boast their own elite facility that regularly hosts some of the nation's top regular-season tournaments. So, their players have great perspective as to what makes a great venue for college tennis. Tennis is universally regarded as one of the more genteel sports. It's a sport that emphasizes adherence to the customs of the game, with a premium placed on respecting the participants by maintaining decorum throughout the match. If Alabama tennis fans can affect the outcome in a sportsmanlike, supportive manner at our home matches then we certainly all can be a positive factor for our teams at every one of our events.

As I noted last week, seven of our winter/spring sports teams currently are nationally ranked. That's a great collection of elite teams - yet we can do even better - and you can help. So I am challenging our supporters, and especially our students, to take this simple, but important and beneficial, course of action: 1) Adopt one (or all) of our teams and become a factor in their success; 2) Encourage family members and friends to join you in that expanded role of impactful Tide sports fan. Such a collaborative effort of support is particularly important if you live in or near Tuscaloosa and can regularly attend our home events, many of which are free to the public. Your presence unquestionably will make a profound difference for our outstanding young people; 3) Get to know our student-athletes and their teams. Our department has a multitude of fan-friendly initiatives and promotional activities with opportunities to meet our athletes.

My experience at tennis wasn't the only one last weekend that pumped me up! Our crowds at women's basketball and baseball also were excellent. The Alabama fans at these venues were tuned in and supportive of two of our programs that I am confident are poised to take the next pivotal step in the continuing growth of their respective programs.

Baseball, in particular, had a very good opening weekend both on the field and in the stands. We had a great weekend at The Joe. The weather was good, the crowd was into it and we played well against a very good St. Louis team. I was particularly happy with the excitement generated by our new right field seating area. In addition to our marketing department doing an excellent job of crowd engagement throughout the weekend, the right field area, made up primarily of students, has really injected some home-field spirit into the game-day atmosphere.

This support makes a difference, whether at home or away. Last Friday, our gymnastics team notched its 108th consecutive victory over Auburn in front of a loud and raucous crowd of 7,123 (the second-largest in Auburn history) in a tightly-contested meet. Our team was spurred on by a small, yet very enthusiastic number of Alabama fans that bussed down courtesy of the UA gymnastics booster club.

Looking ahead to the weekend, we have several opportunities for you to help us be successful. The men's basketball team hosts Missouri this Saturday at 7 p.m. Our baseball team hosts a three-game series against Stephen F. Austin State (Friday at 6:05 p.m., Saturday at 2:05 p.m. and Sunday at 1:05 p.m.). Our softball team opens its 2014 home schedule with games against Central Florida (Friday at 6 p.m. & Saturday at 4 p.m.), Virginia Tech (Saturday at 1:30 p.m.) and McNeese State (Sunday at 1:30 p.m.). Our men's and women's tennis teams play in Montgomery on Friday through Saturday at the Blue Gray Tournament (check rolltide.com for their match schedules). Gymnastics competes against Oklahoma, Michigan and West Virginia in a meet in Oklahoma City on Friday night starting at 7 p.m. And our swimming & diving teams are competing now through Saturday against their conference foes at the SEC Championships at the University of Georgia in Athens.

Our fans - YOU - are the fuel that makes our engine go. YOU can be a difference maker for our teams. Your support can go a long way in helping the various varsity programs continue to grow and thrive. While many of our events do not require a ticket for admission, if you are not using your tickets for the events that do require it, please consider donating them to a friend or fans that might not otherwise have the opportunity of seeing the Crimson Tide play. I've seen it many times over the decades, and that valuable fan impact definitely was on display last weekend. Our coaches and student-athletes clearly notice this type of engaged fan support and - maybe even more importantly - our opponents do, too.

Quotes of the Week

"If we put the work in, it's going to pay off. I think it's sometimes hard to see tangible results, but getting the win this week really helped us. As a team we can beat anybody." -Emily Zabor, tennis junior, who won the last match to secure the 4-3 victory over #10 Virginia.

"Coach Sarah (Patterson) told us before the meet started that it would probably come down to the last routine, so we expected it going in. We're going to give it our all. That's what we did." -Sarah DeMeo, gymnastics senior, who won the all-around competition with a career high score in a victory over Auburn.

"I loved the energy. It's so loud. Even though we were not at home, we still had a lot of good people from home that could cheer us on." -Aja Sims, gymnastics freshman who bounced back from a slip in her first routine on the uneven bars to finish strong with a 9.875 on the floor exercise and a 9.925 on the balance beam.

"We got off to a great start, obviously, with three school records in four swims. It was a statement night for us, I think. It kind of says Alabama is back." -Head Coach Dennis Pursley as swimming and diving team shattered three school records in first day of this week's SEC Championships.

Let's keep the Tide rising!

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