Bama travels to hostile LSU for rivalry meet

Bama travels to hostile LSU for rivalry meet
Kim Jacob scored a 9.900 on the beam Friday night at the Pink Meet against Arkansas. / CW | Katie Bennett

Alabama and Louisiana State have always been rivals, but this season, things became extra tense between the two teams, particularly because of the drama surrounding the 2011 football season.

This week, another chapter will be written in the rivalry as the No. 3 Crimson Tide gymnastics team travels to Baton Rouge to square off with the No. 13 Tigers on Friday.

“It just makes this battle this weekend so much bigger,” freshman Lora Leigh Frost said. “Basketball's beaten them, football's beaten them, and it’s now our turn to beat them.”

But defeating the Tigers will be no easy task. LSU is known for being a hostile environment by gymnastics standards. In most arenas across the country, fans generally show respect to the opposition and focus on cheering for the home team.

Not so in Baton Rouge. Their fans routinely taunt opposing gymnasts while they are doing routines – especially on the balance beam, where focus is critical.

That’s why the Tide’s focus this week has been on eliminating distractions and keeping concentration.

“It's not the largest environment that we will have competed in, but it will be the most hostile and competitive in that way,” head coach Sarah Patterson said. “It's a good crowd. It's a competitive team. It's an SEC rivalry. It's the overlay of a football rivalry. There are a lot of intangibles that go into it. It's also a little bit of that cajun atmosphere.”

This week in practice, Patterson pulled out all of the stops to take her gymnasts out of their comfort zone. She played music, made them do routines facing different directions and even had some of the girls chant “L-S-U” while others did their routines.

“We have prepared our ladies for that,” Patterson said. “I think this will be the hardest environment that we'll be in.”

The team also said they will use the BCS National Championship game as motivation to get the win.

“I think we can use that as fuel. I really do,” junior Ashley Sledge said. “We can take what our football team did to just come in and dominate in their arena, and that's what we plan to do.”

The team got a little bit of extra motivation and inspiration from one member of Alabama’s football team.

Strength and conditioning coach Scott Cochran, an LSU graduate, visited practice for a couple of minutes and spoke to the team.

“How to focus – that's what he talked to them about,” Patterson said. “There will be distractions, and he talked to them about how to mentally focus. It's a great perspective.”

He also applied the “fourth quarter” mantra that has become so popular with the football team to the gymnastics team’s meet.

“When Coach Cochran came in and spoke to our girls – we end on the balance beam,” Patterson said. “He said, 'It's four inches wide, that's your fourth quarter. You've got to win it on the beam."

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