April 17, 2009
| RollTide.com's NCAA Championship Central
LINCOLN, Neb. -
Sarah Patterson told her team over and over - "Finish strong."
A month ago, that motto took the Alabama Gymnastics team to its sixth Southeastern Conference Championship and tonight it took the Crimson Tide to its highest score of the season and a runner-up finish here at the NCAA Championships just behind the University of Georgia.
"This was the best meet we had all season," Patterson, in her 31st season coaching Alabama, said. "I told the ladies, `Go out there and have your best performance and if there's a better team out there make them beat you.' That's exactly what we did."
The Tide took second with a 197.575, marking the 11th time the Tide has finished the season among the nation's top two teams. Georgia took first with a 197.825, winning its 10th NCAA title and fifth in a row. Utah was third with a 197.425, followed by Florida at 196.725, Arkansas at 196.475 and LSU at 196.375.
"We went 24-for-24 (in events), we stuck four vaults, five bars dismounts, went six-for-six on beam," Patterson said. "We were the only team to hit all 24 events in competition."
While the whole night was a clinic in how to finish strong, the Tide's last rotation, the floor exercise, put an exclamation point on it scoring a season-high 49.5. Senior Ashley O'Neal, in her last event ever, scored a career-high 9.875 to lead the Tide off on the floor. Freshman Caitlin Sullivan tied her career-best score with a 9.875 followed by a 9.9 from freshman Geralen Stack-Eaton, a 9.85 from junior Ricki Lebegern, a 9.9 from freshman Ashley Priess. Junior Morgan Dennis finished the night off with a flourish, scoring a 9.95.
Each of Alabama's four all-arounders scored 39.4 or better. Dennis posted her second highest total of the season, going 39.6 while Lebegern tallied a 39.4. Priess and Stack-Eaton both came away with career-high scores, going 39.575 and 39.45 respectively.
The Tide didn't just finish strong, it started that way too going 49.425 on the vault behind 9.9s from Priess, Hoffman and Dennis. Stack-Eaton got Alabama's night started with a 9.85 in the leadoff spot while Lebegern scored a 9.875.
The Tide posted a 49.325 on the uneven bars led by 9.9s from Dennis and Hoffman, a 9.875 from Priess and a 9.85 from Stack-Eaton. Price made her first appearance in the uneven bars lineup since breaking her finger in mid-February scoring a 9.8 a score matched by Lebegern. On the balance beam, Alabama was once again rock solid, scoring a 49.325 behind a 9.9 from Priess, a 9.875 from Lebegern in the leadoff spot and 9.85s from Sullivan, Stack-Eaton and Dennis.
Three UA gymnasts will compete in tomorrow's individual event finals. Priess and Dennis on the uneven bars and Priess and Lebegern on the balance beam.