Gymnast returns with a vengeance

Gymnast returns with a vengeance
Ashley Priess scored a 9.850 on her beam routine against Georgia on Friday night. / CW | Katie Bennett

When Ashley Priess stepped onto the floor for Alabama’s final round of the night, she knew it would take a great routine to seal the Tide win.

Competing in her first meet since ankle surgery forced her to sit out the 2011 season, the senior nailed it. Priess posted a 9.9 score in the floor exercise to give Alabama the win on opening night over the Georgia Gym Dogs, 196.475 to 196.325.

With freshman Lora Leigh Frost scoring a 9.35 on her floor routine, it was up to Priess to close out the match. And Alabama head coach Sarah Patterson wanted it that way.

“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.”

It took a comeback for Alabama to capture its first win of the season. Through two rotations, the Tide found itself down 98.325 to 98.175 after suffering two falls on the uneven bars by Kaitlyn Clark and Sarah DeMeo.

“I am so proud of our team tonight,” Patterson said. “That's a great rivalry out there, a great Georgia team. And we had a great score when you think that we counted a fall. I'm proud of our ladies for coming back and not giving up.”

But Patterson prefers to get the mistakes out early in the season.

“You could tell it was our first meet. We had some jitters, we had a couple of little freshman mistakes,” Patterson said. “We probably benefited more from the way the evening transpired than if we had gone out and been perfect.”

Senior Geralen Stack-Eaton wowed the crowd of 14,501 early on when she scored a 10 on the vault. It was Alabama’s first perfect score since Ashley Miles in the 2005 NCAA championships. Miles was in Coleman Coliseum on the broadcast for WVUA-TV.

“I was actually shocked myself. I didn't know it was 10 worthy,” Stack-Eaton said. “I was just excited when I stuck it, but I wasn't expecting a 10 at all.”

“In comparison to the other vaults, it was perfect,” Patterson said. “But Geralen will never tell you it was perfect.”

Junior Ashley Sledge competed in her first all-around on Friday night, posting a score of 39.45. Sledge hadn’t competed in an all-around since her junior year in high school, but enjoyed the challenge, calling the experience “absolutely wonderful. I haven't done all-around since I was a junior in high school. I love to do all-around.”

The meet will be replayed on Jan. 19 at 5:30 p.m. on ESPNU and on Jan. 22 at 6 p.m. on ESPN2.

Alabama’s next meet will be next week, when it will travel to State College, Pennsylvania to take on the Penn State Nittany Lions and the Michigan State Spartans.

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