March 9, 2012
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -
The No. 4 Alabama gymnastics team beat No. 14 Missouri, 197.175-195.375, in front of 12,936 fans in Coleman Coliseum Friday night. It marked Alabama's fifth 197-plus score in its last six meets.
"I think we worked very hard for every tenth of a point out there," UA head coach Sarah Patterson said. "Nothing was given to us tonight, but I think that's good. It will help us moving forward."
Senior Geralen Stack-Eaton won her third all-around in four outings this season with a season-best 39.550. She also won the uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise on the night while junior Marissa Gutierrez keyed an Alabama sweep of the individual titles by winning the vault.
The Crimson Tide used the night to unofficially welcome Missouri, who was tapped as the Southeastern Conference's 14th team last fall, to the league. Missouri officially joins the SEC next fall.
"We wanted to do our best to welcome Missouri into the Southeastern Conference," UA coach Sarah Patterson said. "I don't think that there was any coach that was more excited about having another quality gymnastics team in our conference than I was."
The meet had another purpose as well. Both teams represent states hit hard by last spring's devastating storms, which led Patterson to designate Friday as Tornado Relief night.
"To me, tonight was a chance to welcome Missouri to the SEC, celebrate the tornado relief efforts and tie all that together with a great competition," Patterson said. "This meet has been circled on my calendar for a long time."
Before the meet got underway, Tuscaloosa Toyota and Tuscaloosa Motor Sales USA presented ReadBAMARead, the foundation started by UA assistant coach Dana Duckworth to restock the libraries of the three Tuscaloosa elementary schools destroyed by last April's tornado, with checks totaling $22,400.
Prior to the season, David DeSantis and Tuscaloosa Toyota pledged $200 for every 9.8 or better score by a UA gymnast in their first three home meets. The Tide tallied 62 such scores of that span, accounting for the initial check for $12,400 that was presented to Duckworth and ReadBAMARead. What Duckworth didn't know prior to Friday night was that DeSantis and Tuscaloosa Toyota partnered with Toyota Motor Sales USA for an additional $10,000 donation in matching funds.
"There were only about three people who knew about the second check prior to the event ," Patterson said. "It was great to be able to surprise Dana because she has worked so hard on behalf of this cause."
ReadBAMARead will also stage a 10K race and a 1K fun run Saturday, March 10 to further benefit the cause.
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley and Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox were on hand for a ceremony during the meet where both schools and their fans remembered those affected by the tornadoes and honored everyone who has helped with the ongoing recovery efforts.
Alabama, wearing black leotards with a houndstooth ribbon on the front with the date of the tornado emblazoned on the back, started the night off with a 49.325 on the vault, led by Gutierrez's 9.95, which tied her career best. In the next rotation, Stack-Eaton posted a 9.9 to pace the Tide to a 49.350 on the uneven bars.
In the third rotation, for the second time this season, Alabama started its balance beam rotation off with a fall and for the second time this season, the Tide answered with five hit routines in a row, scoring a 49.325 led by a season-high 9.925 from Stack-Eaton.
"I really wasn't worried." Stack-Eaton said of the fall. "I was confident the rest of us would hit our routines because we practice this every day in practice. Tonight was good experience for the postseason. If we were to get into that situation again, we know how to come back and make the next five routines."
Using a shuffled lineup, the Tide finished the meet with a 49.175 on the floor exercise led by Stack-Eaton's 9.9. Patterson substituted freshman Brooke Parker in for Gutierrez, who was shaky in floor warm-ups after battling illness earlier in the week. It marked Parker's second turn in the Tide's competitive lineup this season.
"It was good for (Brooke) and it was good for our team," Patterson said. "We also got Kayla Williams out there tonight in exhibition on balance beam and vault and she did a great job. I think that when you have those people at seven, eight and nine in the lineup who are pushing one through six, that's what makes you a better team."
The Tide closes out the regular season at home next Friday against North Carolina starting at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available through the Alabama Ticket Office (205.348.2262) located in the lobby of Coleman Coliseum or online at RollTide.com.