Coach Patterson seeks another gymnastics title as Tide tries to repeat

Coach Patterson seeks another gymnastics title as Tide tries to repeat
Diandra Milliner delivered a 9.85 on balance beam Friday night at the Pink Meet. / CW | Teresa Portone

Paul “Bear” Bryant won six national championships in his quarter of a century coaching in Tuscaloosa. This season, gymnastics coach Sarah Patterson will look to equal that feat.

As the 2011 Southeastern Conference and national champions, the 2012 Alabama gymnastics team has reloaded and is ready for a new season to begin.

The 2012 season opens with a big home meet against SEC rival and 10-time national champion Georgia Jan. 13, the first Friday that classes are back in session.

“It’s great for our fans and our students coming in January,” Patterson said. “Their opening gymnastics meet is against one of the top programs in the country, and we should be able to fill the arena for that event.”

The rest of the schedule is also stacked, and the Crimson Tide will host five meets, including one against Florida and one against Arkansas, which will also be the Power of Pink Meet. Some of the away meets include Oklahoma, LSU, Penn State and Auburn. Patterson said stacking a schedule helps the team gain confidence knowing that they are competing against some of the best teams.

“The best thing about our schedule is that it’s a schedule that will challenge us week in and week out,” Patterson said. “We don’t have any easy meets.”

While Alabama is the defending national and conference champion, Patterson said she views this year’s squad as an entirely different team, which takes away the pressure that comes with the title.

“I think if you look at it as this is a totally different team, we have to do the same thing that we’ve done each year,” she said. “The goal is still the same: to be on the floor the last night with a chance to win a championship, and I say that every year, but I think if you look at the goal, and then you take the steps to get to the goal, I think you’ll do fine.”

Last season, senior Ashley Priess, a five-time All-American, sat out the season after having surgery on both her ankles. She said it was hard to sit out last year, and she’s ready to compete again this year.

“I’ve kind of surprised myself at how good my health is at this point,” she said. “I didn’t know how well I was going to be able to come back from my ankle injury, and I really am pleased and excited about this year.”

This year’s team features three seniors, three juniors, seven sophomores and four freshmen, and senior Geralin Stack-Eaton said the seniors have moved into leadership roles.

“It’s something when you’re a senior that you have that seniority, so it’s kind of a role that you automatically step into, and you just want to do the best that you can to lead the team,” she said. “Hopefully it all comes out together in the end.”

Between now and the start of the season, Patterson said the team will continue to practice and get ready. She said it is her job as the coach to help the team manage stress due to finals and school.

“We’ll have to make a really good balance in practice and help them through this next couple of weeks that will be pretty stressful

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