The Battle Plan

March 6, 2014

What a great weekend our Alabama athletic teams enjoyed!

The excitement kicked off with our gymnastics team beating Florida on Friday night in a down-to-the-wire contest that ultimately required our two seniors, Diandra Milliner and Kim Jacob, each scoring 9.85 in the final event of the evening to bring home the victory. Coach Patterson believes that Florida has more talent than any other team in the country, and it was awesome to see our team compete so well with all the chips on the table at the end. The past two NCAA championship teams put on quite a show for the fans.

I am particularly inspired and gratified by the spirit, tenacity and enthusiasm that our men's basketball team continues to show in what has been a difficult season. On Saturday they earned an impressive 73-57 win over our arch-rivals from Auburn. Trevor Releford sustained an injury right off the bat. Even though he played with pain most of the game, it was exciting to see how the rest of the team - led by Levi Randolph, Rodney Cooper, Shannon Hale, and Jimmie Taylor - took up the slack. It was a great team effort that was inspired by an enthusiastic crowd, our cheerleaders, Crimson Cabaret, Crimson Chaos, Big Al, and our marketing support staff.

I also was especially pleased to attend the reunion of our 1973-74 team that won an SEC title with a 22-4 record and a 13-3 league mark. Eight players and managers - Ray Odums, Leon Douglas, Tom Schellenberg, Johnny Dill, Boonie Russell, Sang Lyda, Ben Shurett and Craig Alexander - joined head coach C.M. Newton and assistant coaches John Bostick and Tommy Suitts for the weekend. It was a pleasure to meet and visit with all those guys who contributed so much to Alabama basketball history. They brought us good luck and I hope they will return to campus soon and often.

Our women's team followed up on Sunday afternoon with a 78-60 win over LSU, our first over the Tigers since 2002. Several of the young ladies on this year's team have persevered through difficult times during their college careers. It is a testament to their dedication that they are setting a great foundation for future success in coach Kristy Curry's first season in Tuscaloosa. They have improved from the first game to the last as much as any team I've ever seen.

It also became obvious that the swimming and track & field teams are starting to make significant competitive progress in their rebuilding phases under head coaches who have come on board in recent times. Second-year swimming coach Dennis Pursley's team set an astounding 17 school records at the recent SEC Championships, including one SEC record by Anton Mckee in the men's 200 breaststroke. That translated to a fourth-place team finish for the men's team, our highest since 1995, and an eighth-place finish by the women's team, an improvement from last year. Over the course of five days of competition, the team produced 110 personal-best performances and 10 automatic qualifiers for the upcoming NCAA meet.

Dan Waters' track team also is making impressive progress during his third year in Tuscaloosa. At last weekend's SEC Indoor Championships, the men's team finished fourth in the team standings with 76 points, its best point total at that meet since 1986. It was only the third men's top-4 finish at the SEC Indoor meet since 1986, and the sixth-best total ever scored by a Tide men's team at the SEC Indoor meet. Over the course of the competition, Crimson Tide athletes won three individual events, set 16 individual personal bests, broke two school records, and produced 23 performances that rank among the all-time Alabama top 10 in several events. The men's team currently is ranked 11th in this week's national team rankings while the women's team is 18th. This marks the first time in the seven-year history of those rankings that both Alabama squads are listed in the top 25 at the same time.

Our men's golf team saw a remarkable win streak come to an end on Tuesday at the SMU Querencia Cabo Collegiate in Los Cabos, Mexico. Coach Jay Seawell truly has a special group this season, holding the nation's number-one ranking, but the team's amazing 11-tournament win streak ended by one stroke as No. 11 Houston edged the Tide. It marks the first time in nearly a full calendar year that the team has not won, an unbelievable streak in a sport that makes consistent excellence difficult to achieve.

Head Coach Jenny Mainz's women's tennis team jumped six spots in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) rankings this week, moving up to No. 4. The No. 4 ranking is the highest in program history. The Tide currently stands at 10-2 overall and 2-0 in Southeastern Conference play, most recently knocking off Mississippi State and Ole Miss, by 4-0 scores. Jenny's team has beaten four nationally-ranked opponents thus far this season, including then-No. 10 Virginia, who just beat No. 1 Duke, 5-2. Now the Tide women hit the road for three consecutive SEC matches, starting this Friday at LSU, then Sunday at Arkansas and next Friday (March 14) at Auburn.

Our men's tennis team, led by Coach George Husack, continues to improve and show resilience. After a tough loss at Mississippi State last Friday, the men came back to take a 4-2 win at Ole Miss on Sunday. They continue SEC play this Friday at LSU before returning home this Sunday for a pair of matches against Arkansas at 1 p.m. and The Citadel at 6 p.m.

The softball team stands 17-4 overall as it begins SEC play this weekend at Rhoads Stadium against South Carolina. Last weekend, Pat Murphy's team won four out of five home games at the Easton Crimson Classic, including a split of two games against ninth-ranked Florida State. FSU had won 17 straight games before losing to the Tide. They knocked off a good Houston team twice, by scores of 11-4 and 12-1, and added a 7-3 win over Purdue. The Tide is playing very good softball heading into the conference season, having won eight games thus far by run-rule margins.

Our baseball team bounced back with a 4-3 win over Auburn last night in Montgomery that came on the heels of a tough road trip at Southern Miss and 10th-ranked Louisiana-Lafayette. They host a three-game series this weekend against Mississippi Valley State at Sewell-Thomas Stadium. It's the final non-conference series of the season. We have enjoyed a solid home field advantage thus far this season and are pleased with the popularity of our right-field terrace section which has attracted a large student cheering section. So please come out and support our team as they try to build momentum heading into the SEC slate.

Our teams appear to be putting it all together for a strong finish that provides hope for the future - both for the end of this season and for seasons to come. One of the great things about team sports is that confidence, preparation and enthusiasm are contagious. When someone is able to combine those crucial ingredients, it tends to spread! This definitely applies to our fans, who we all consider a vital part of our team. Everyone in the organization can and should contribute. Good team chemistry can enable average teams to compete for championships. This past weekend was a great one for Alabama athletics. Many great victories and tremendous recruiting opportunities. Congratulations to all the teams, coaches, and fans.

The Tide is indeed Rising!

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