Jan. 6, 2011
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - When the No. 2 ranked Alabama gymnastics team opens the 2011 season at home this Friday against No. 14 Penn State, Crimson Tide fans can expect to see a lot of new faces.
There are eight freshmen on this year's team, making it the largest class in school history and accounting for nearly half the roster. The Tide's newcomers will have to step in for last year's All-American senior class - Morgan Dennis, Ricki Lebegern, Kassi Price and Casey Overton - as well as junior Ashley Priess who had surgery on both ankles since last season, including one in the fall, and is sidelined for the foreseeable future.
"There have been some years when our freshmen have been able to come in, get comfortable in the collegiate environment, see how things play out and then work their way into the lineup," UA head coach Sarah Patterson said. "This year it's going to be trial by fire. We're going to put several of our freshmen, Sarah DeMeo, Kim Jacob, and Diandra Milliner, out there right away."
Senior All-American Kayla Hoffman and junior All-American Geralen Stack-Eaton will be among the returnees who lead the Tide into the season, though Stack-Eaton may sit out the first meet after tweaking her knee in practice a few days after Christmas.
After visits to State College each of the last two years, Alabama's veterans are familiar with the Nittany Lions, who have been regulars on the Tide's schedule over the past 30-plus years. And while he is new to Penn State, Nittany Lions head coach Jeff Thompson is no stranger to Alabama or Coleman Coliseum after spending the last decade as Auburn's head coach. After opening with Auburn the last two years, Friday will mark the third consecutive time the Tide has started things off with a Thompson-coached team.
Friday also marks the first time since 2008 that Alabama has opened its season at home and the first time since 2001, when PSU was part of the Super 6 Challenge field, that the Nittany Lions have been on hand for the Tide's home opener. Alabama has been extremely successful in its home openers under coaches Sarah and David Patterson, amassing a 42-1-1 record over the span of their Alabama careers.
The Tide's opener is the first of five Tuscaloosa Toyota Fun, Family Fridays in the Coliseum and will features plenty of giveaways including LCD televisions, iPads and numerous gift cards. Friday is also the Big Al's Kids Club meet. Members will receive free admission with their Big Al's Kids Club button.
"We have the best fans in the nation and I'm excited for them going into this season," Patterson said. "While they'll miss Morgan Dennis, Ricki Lebegern and Casey Overton, gymnasts they watched grow up over the last four years, I feel these new faces, with their charm and charisma, will excite them."
Friday's meet starts at 7:30 p.m. and tickets are available through the Alabama Ticket Office (205.348.2262), located in the lobby of Coleman Coliseum and online at RollTide.com.