Priess caps comeback season with national title

Priess caps comeback season with national title

Ashley Priess couldn’t have asked for a better ending to her senior season.

Priess stepped up on the balance beam at the NCAA championships with all eyes on her. The Florida Gators had finished on the floor, and she needed 9.875 to secure Alabama’s second-straight national championship.

She came through and then some, posting a 9.95 and ensuring herself a place in Alabama’s record books.

But Priess’ story began long before her final routine as an Alabama gymnast. In 2011, Priess sat on the sidelines after surgery on both of her ankles and could only watch as her teammates took home the national championship.

“This is the young woman that sat in the stands last year with two busted ankles, that wasn't on the floor with us, one of our best team members, best gymnast we've ever had, and she was sitting in the stands,” head coach Sarah Patterson said. “It was humbling for her because we won the championship without her. And then to have her step in … I couldn't be more proud of that moment.”

“Sitting in the stands last year at nationals was a really difficult, bittersweet, yet humbling experience for me,” Priess said. “So, this whole year has just been a miracle and a blessing in so many ways.”

Her year started with a bang. Competing against Georgia in the first meet of the season, Priess was the last one on the floor for the Tide and had to hit to win the match, which she did.

“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,” head coach Sarah Patterson said at the time. “I wanted her experience. I wanted her competitiveness, and I knew she would win it for us.”

As the season wore on, the task for Patterson became not worrying about whether Priess would be back to full strength, but rather managing her health throughout the course of a long season.

The life of gymnasts can be grueling, so it was critical that such an important piece of Alabama’s lineup not be hindered.

“Any time you have that magnitude of a surgery, she was disappointed,” Patterson said. “I think it was humbling for her. Then as she started getting back, to me it was a management job in terms of keeping her healthy.”

The season wore on and Priess only seemed to get better. She and fellow senior Geralen Stack-Eaton anchored the Tide’s lineup night in and night out, often competing in all four events.

And so there was Priess on the last rotation of the last night of the NCAA Championships with the fate of Alabama’s 2012 season on her routine.

“All I can control is what I'm going to do on beam,” Priess said. “So, that was the only thing in my thought process.”

“When she did that beam routine last night, I don’t know whether we're going to win or finish second, but to see her handle that,” Patterson said, “I'm standing at the end of the beam, and that brought tears to my eyes because I know how much that meant to her.”

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