After ankle surgery last season, Priess back to anchor the Tide

After ankle surgery last season, Priess back to anchor the Tide
Geralen Stack-Eaton celebrates after receiving a perfect 10.000 on her vault routine against Georgia. / CW | Katie Bennett

Last offseason, the University of Alabama gymnastics team brought in a highly touted freshman class who played a major role in winning Alabama’s fourth national championship.

Head coach Sarah Patterson recruited another stellar class this year, but the top newcomer on the 2012 team isn’t a freshman; she’s a senior.

Ashley Priess missed the entirety of last season after undergoing surgery on both ankles, but she is back and healthy for 2012 and ready to contribute in a big way to a loaded Crimson Tide squad.

“I think Ashley Priess is going to rock,” Patterson said about the senior. “She's so strong physically and mentally that I just think when she gets out there and is able to perform, it's just going to be dazzling.”

While her teammates put together one of the most accomplished seasons in school history, Priess’ ankle surgery forced her to watch it all from the sidelines. It was a humbling experience for the senior from Wheaton, Ill.

“Last year was a very bittersweet year for me,” Priess said. “I was so ecstatic for the team, but at the same time it was the hardest year of my life. It was a constant struggle, constant disappointment, but at the same time it was constant success for the team.”

            “I think any competitive athlete wants to be out there and wants to be a part of the success,” Patterson said. “So I think it's very humbling that your team won three championships without you. But on the other hand, it fueled her to be the best she can be right now.”

Patterson compares Priess’ injury last year to wide receiver Marquis Maze, who missed most of the 2011 BCS National Championship game after pulling a hamstring on a punt return.

“When I saw Maze on the sidelines the other night … he was teary-eyed because he wasn't out there in the third quarter,” she said.

Priess competed in her first meet in 2012 on Friday against the Georgia Gym Dogs. She participated in the uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise. Her score of 9.90 helped Alabama to its first win of the season.

“When [assistant coach David Patterson] and I were making up the lineup at the end, I said if it comes down to the end, I want Priess to anchor us on floor,” Patterson said. “I wanted her experience, I wanted her competitiveness and I knew she would win it for us.”

Patterson’s next challenge is managing Priess so she can continue to compete at a high level. The only event she did not participate in was the vault – the event that is hardest on the ankles. Priess has been vaulting in practice but will not compete in it this weekend.

“It's a management thing,” Patterson said. “If I asked her every day to go out and tumble on the hard floor, she would never make it all season.”

For many seniors, the last year is a time of reflection and one last chance to go out on top, but for Ashley Priess, it’s a fresh beginning.

“I'm just so happy to be doing gymnastics again,” Priess said. “My passion has been completely restored for the sport. I just love competing.”

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