Gymnasts continue to improveBy Jason Galloway | 03/10/2011 9:04am
When the gymnastics preseason coaches’ poll was released in early January, Alabama head coach Sarah Patterson couldn’t help but laugh.
Her team, who had lost three All-Americans to graduation and another one to injury, was ranked No. 2 in the country.
“When the polls came out, I said, ‘Are you kidding me?’” Patterson said. “’There is no way, shape or form that with the team we have right now, we should be ranked No. 2.’ We weren’t there at that time at the beginning of the season. We had a long way to go.”
Alabama has come a long way. In the Crimson Tide’s first meet of the season, 11 of its 24 routines were performed by nervous freshmen. Now, one meet from postseason action, the team looks like a confident national title contender.
Alabama is No. 2 again—not because of potential, but because of performance.
“I think this was an ideal way to go about the season,” senior Alyssa Chapman said. “We struggled a little bit in the beginning, but I feel like having the progression from the beginning to the end of the season [is important] so you don’t peak too early. We still haven’t reached our full potential.”
From the beginning of the season, Alabama has looked at its season in three parts: the first five meets, the second five meets and the postseason.
The first third was a learning curve and included a narrow escape at Arkansas and an embarrassing loss at Florida by more than two points.
“[Our gymnasts] were in diapers the last time we lost by two points,” Patterson said after the Florida meet.
Since that blowout, Alabama has been unstoppable. The Tide has put up four straight scores higher than 197, the only team in the country to do so this season, including a dominating 197.675 at rival Georgia on Feb. 25.
Alabama had 14 routines score lower than 9.5 in its first five meets this season. During its recent four-meet tear, the Tide has only had two scores lower than 9.5. Not only is Alabama No. 2 overall in the country, but it is now ranked in the top three on all four events.
“I think it’s one of the biggest transformations of a team that I’ve witnessed,” Patterson said.
Senior Kayla Hoffman and junior Geralen Stack-Eaton have looked like two of the best gymnasts in the country (both have tied for the nation’s best all-around score of 39.675 this season), and those freshmen that looked nervous and hesitant now have as much confidence as anyone.
“From the beginning of the season, we’ve improved immensely,” freshman Kim Jacob said. “We’ve always had the talent and the opportunities to do great, but I just think we’ve gained our confidence and have grown a little bit each meet.”
The Tide’s final meet of the regular season begins at 7:30 tonight against LSU in Coleman Coliseum. Alabama will then go to the SEC Championships in Birmingham on March 19 before hosting Regionals on April 2.