April 7, 2012
SEATTLE, Wash. -
The No. 4 ranked Alabama gymnastics team made its first trip to the University of Washington campus and Alaska Airline Arena a successful one, winning the NCAA Seattle Regional Championship with a 197.025 and advancing to the NCAA Championship finals for the 30th consecutive year.
"I think it's pretty remarkable to be able to say that you're going to the NCAA finals for the 30th year in a row," UA head coach Sarah Patterson said. "I've had a great coaching partner for the last 34 years in David (Patterson) and as the ladies pointed out, we're going to our 30th NCAA Championship and a month later we'll celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. To have had that kind of success with him over such a long period time is heartwarming."
In addition to winning the regional, Alabama posted the highest event score on all four apparatus.
"It was a four-judge panel and they weren't giving any scores away," Patterson said. "This is a great score and I'm very pleased."
While the Crimson Tide earned its bid with relative ease, finishing nearly a point ahead of the field, the battle for second place was intense, with LSU and Washington within .025 of each other going into the final rotation. In the end, LSU made it an all-Southeastern Conference affair at the top of the standings, edging the hometown Huskies, 196.075-195.825.
"We're so excited that LSU is also advancing to the NCAA finals out of this regional," Patterson said. "To have the two SEC teams that had to travel cross country to this regional make it back to Duluth says a lot about our conference. Five of the 12 teams that advanced to Duluth are from the SEC and I think that is amazing."
Alabama scored a 49.325 on the vault to finish things off, led by junior Marissa Gutierrez's 9.9. On the floor exercise, the Tide's third event, Gutierrez and senior Geralen Stack-Eaton scored 9.875s to win the event and push the Tide to a 49.125 team total.
The Tide started things off with a 49.350 on the uneven bars, led by 9.9s from junior Ashley Sledge and Stack-Eaton, which won the event. Alabama followed that up with a 49.225 on the balance beam where sophomore Sarah DeMeo won the event with a 9.9 of her own.
"I really thought that everyone just stepped up," Patterson said. "Our practice day wasn't spectacular, but everybody made their adjustments and I think it was a total team effort on the evening. We didn't have our usual crowd tonight because it was such a long way to travel, but I hope the Bama Nation was listening on the radio and following online because our ladies did this for them and our great University."
Stack-Eaton also won the all-around with a 39.4, followed by senior Ashley Priess in second place with a 39.350.
During the award ceremony at the end of the meet, it was announced that Stack-Eaton had been voted the NCAA Central Region Gymnast of the Year, marking the second year in a row an Alabama gymnast has earned the honor, following 2011 senior Kayla Hoffman.
"This is the most difficult night of the season," Patterson said. "It's all or nothing and there have been some great teams, championship teams like UCLA and Georgia, who haven't advanced in recent years. Anything can happen and you have to be prepared and I think we were. You can never take it for granted and I can tell you right now, qualifying to the NCAA finals never gets old."
Alabama and LSU will join the 10 other top-two finishers from the other five other regional sites around the country at the NCAA Championship finals which will be held in Duluth, Ga. in the Arena at Gwinnett Place, site of last month's Southeastern Conference Championships, April 20-22.