Tide gymnastics wins fifth national championshipBy Jason Galloway | 04/16/2011 8:30pm
CLEVELAND | In January, the Alabama gymnastics team was inexperienced an untested.
In January, head coach Sarah Patterson laughed at her team’s No. 2 preseason ranking.
In January, the Crimson Tide was replacing four All-Americans from last season, four beam routines, 13 total routines and was tossing freshmen into half of its lineup.
On Saturday, though, Alabama was the most complete team in the country, at one point had a freshman save its season, and, to nobody’s surprise, won the fifth national championship in program history.
“At the beginning of the season, the coaches voted us No. 2,” Patterson said. “When I saw that poll, I said, ‘Are you kidding me?’ That’s what people expect us to do – somehow, someway… we would find a way to be competitive.
“I guess my peers were off by one.”
Alabama ran into a bit of trouble on the night’s fourth rotation, when senior Kayla Hoffman fell on beam. If one of the two competitors remaining in the Tide’s beam lineup also fell, Alabama would have to count and fall and its season would be over.
To Hoffman, however, the Tide really wasn’t in trouble.
When she slipped off, she showed no emotion. No disappointment, no concern. She knew her teammates would come through when the team needed it the most, even if one of those teammates was a freshman.
“When Kayla made a mistake and came off, freshman Sarah DeMeo was standing there,” Patterson said. “[Hoffman] can be pretty hard on herself, but she just smiled and she told Sarah, ‘I know we’ve got this.’ I think the way Kayla handled that situation set the tone for us the rest of the night.”
Although DeMeo would later say it was the most nervous she has ever been, she did not show it on the beam. She did not fall – hardly even wobbled – and hit her routine. Junior Geralen Stack-Eaton came behind her and landed her routine as well, and Alabama was still in the mix for the national title.
“I was very nervous,” Stack-Eaton said with an extra emphasis on the word “very”. “I had never been that nervous since, I can’t even tell you when.”
The Tide took a 49.35 on beam after starting the night with a season-high 49.575 on vault and a 49.275 on bars. Heading into the last rotation, Alabama finished on floor holding onto a .025 lead over defending-champion UCLA, who was closing out the night right beside the Tide on beam.
After three competitors, the Bruins had edged ahead of Alabama by .025, but a 9.875 from Diandra Milliner, a 9.925 from Stack-Eaton and a 9.95 from Hoffman to end the meet gave the Tide the edge.
“There were so many emotions going through my head,” Hoffman said of her floor routine. “I just took a deep breath and knew I needed to do this for my team. It was a great way to end my senior year. I couldn’t think of a better way to end it.”
Alabama finished with a 197.65, UCLA was second with a 197.375 and Oklahoma took third with a 197.25. It was the 20th time in the last 26 years the Tide finished in the top three at nationals, and it was its first national championship since 2002. The nine-year drought from 2002 to this season was the longest Alabama has gone without winning the national title since the championships began in 1982.
“It’s not about talent sometimes,” Hoffman said. “It’s about heart. We’re so close, and that’s what made the difference.”