Tide wins seventh SEC Championship titleBy Jason Galloway | 03/22/2011 11:02pm
BIRMINGHAM | The Alabama gymnastics team had the Southeastern Conference Championship locked up before they even knew it.
As the No. 2 Crimson Tide sat out the last rotation on a bye and No. 1 Florida was wrapping up its final push on the vault, it was obvious Alabama was going to win its seventh SEC Championship and second in the last three years at the BJCC Arena in Birmingham on Saturday.
“Our mindset was to take the meet one routine at a time,” head coach Sarah Patterson said. “[The gymnasts] didn’t even know what was going on until I told them we won the championship.”
Alabama scored a 197.225, good enough to beat Florida’s 196.975 and Georgia’s 196.625.
The Tide held a slim lead throughout most of the meet and led Florida by just 0.15 with one event remaining. That event was vault, however, typically the best event for Alabama.
While Florida was on a bye, Alabama put up one of the best events of its season, scoring a 49.5 that was highlighted by Kayla Hoffman’s 9.95, the highest score of the entire competition.
“We just wanted to end strong on vault, and we did,” freshman Sarah DeMeo said.
Heading into the seventh and final rotation, Alabama was in the clubhouse with its final score of 197.225, forcing Florida to need a nearly unprecedented 49.65 to catch the Tide. The Gators put up an impressive 49.4, but it was not enough, and Alabama avenged its only loss of the season by beating Florida.
“We didn’t pay attention to team scores at all throughout the night,” DeMeo said. “When we were waiting on that last rotation, me and the people sitting next to me – Kayla [Hoffman] and [Geralen Stack-Eaton] – our stomachs were really hurting.”
Halfway through the season, hardly anyone would have predicted Alabama to win the SEC Championship. Nearly half the Tide’s routines were coming from freshmen, and the team had just come off an embarrassing loss to the Gators. Since the Florida meet, however, Alabama has looked unbeatable.
“Where we started was so far from where we are now,” Patterson said. “This team has bought into what we’ve told them all year, and the freshmen have been amazing. This has been one of the most memorable years of our coaching careers.”
Hoffman and Stack-Eaton tied for third in the all around for the meet. Hoffman won the vault title, while Stack-Eaton won the beam title and tied for the floor title.
Hoffman won SEC Gymnast of the Year after the meet, something she said she did not expect.
“I was so shocked,” she said. “I was totally blown away. I hope I can represent the SEC well.”
It was a memorable weekend for the Tide, but the team still has Regionals and NCAAs ahead.
“We’ve got to come down from this,” Patterson said. “Nobody goes to nationals without [finishing top two] at Regionals. Florida, Georgia, Arkansas — we’ll see all those teams again [at nationals]. We just have to use this meet as a learning experience.
“[We need to] not settle for this championship. We weren’t perfect tonight, but we still beat some great teams.”
Alabama is hosting a regional meet this year. It will be April 2 at 6 p.m. in Coleman Coliseum.