Four gymnasts to be honored during senior nightBy Marquavius Burnett | 03/13/2013 11:00pm
Four Alabama gymnasts will take the apparatus in Coleman Coliseum for the final time this regular season.
Seniors Becca Alexin, Marissa Gutierrez, Ashley Priess and Ashley Sledge will be honored prior to No. 4 Alabama’s meet versus No. 1 Oklahoma.
The four seniors have been a part of two national championship teams and one Southeastern Conference championship team (two for Priess).
“I think they’ve all grown so much as individuals,” head coach Sarah Patterson said. “Those four people will be important to the success we have in the future.”
Emotions will be high as family and friends pack the stands to cheer for them one last time on their home mats, but Patterson said the girls have to fight through the emotions and remember it’s ultimately about the meet.
“I’m working on that already. I don’t want it to be too emotional because I think we have a lot to do, we have to really use it in a positive light rather than losing our focus,” Patterson said. “And that’s what I try to talk to the ladies about. It’s whether you can go on an event or not, whether we’re still moving in the right direction, it’s all about moving this team forward and competing against the No. 1 team in the country. Take a moment with your parents, enjoy that, and then we have to move on quickly.”
Though seldom used early in her career due to lingering knee issues, Becca Alexin has developed into a key contributor for the team.
Alexin mainly competes on the uneven bars for the Tide and has been a Scholastic All-American and earned a spot on the SEC Academic Honor Roll each year of her career.
But Patterson wanted more from Alexin this season, and she has delivered.
“I challenged Becca Alexin a few weeks ago,” Patterson said. “Becca came in with an injured knee and has had trouble, but she always went on some extra mats. I said, ‘you’re strong enough, you don’t need that.’ She’s done the best bar routines in the last three or four weeks of her career.”
For the team, her personality will be missed, sophomore Kayla Williams said.
“Becca [Alexin], she can make you laugh at everything,” Williams said. “That’s what I learned from Becca. Come into practice every day with a smile on your face and it’s going to be a good day.”
Gutierrez is a three-event standout for the Tide as a staple in the vault, balance beam and floor exercise lineups.
She was selected as a first team Vault All-American her sophomore and junior years and has been the model of consistency.
But three weeks ago in Arkansas, Gutierrez went down with an ankle injury and has yet to return due to lingering pain. Patterson said she won’t compete against Oklahoma and the team hopes to have her back for the SEC Championships.
“To risk putting her out there too soon, that wouldn’t be in our best interest in terms of preserving her health,” Patterson said. “I’m excited with where she was after yesterday. I told Marissa, she’s going to take three steps forward, one step back. Three steps forward, one step back. That’s just the way it’s going to be.”
Patterson said Gutierrez has developed into a strong leader and continued to encourage her teammates despite not being able to perform. That positive attitude has rubbed off on her teammates.
“Guti (Gutierrez) brings this sass and spunk to the team that is really going to be hard to replace,” Williams said. “She has an opinion about everything, but in a good way, you know? Just her uplifting attitude. That’s going to be missed.”
Ashley Priess is only the second fifth-year senior in the program’s history. She was recently named one of six finalists for the 2013 AAI Award, which honors the nation’s top senior gymnast.
An eight-time All-American, Priess is pursuing a master’s degree in sports management and serves as the president of the Alabama Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.
Priess’ decision to return for a fifth year stabilized the Tide’s lineup and brought back valuable leadership.
“[Ashley] Priess brings the experience to the team that is going to be really hard to replace,” Williams said. “From her, I’ve learned to persevere. She came off that junior season rough, ankle surgeries, not competing. She’s come back and has been amazing.”
This will be the second senior day ceremony for Priess as well, but she has relished the experience of being a part of this class of seniors.
“It’s different because last year’s senior class was truly the group I came in with, that I roomed with my freshman year,” Priess said. “There’s just a different bond there. This year, it’s just really meaningful the way that this senior class has taken me into the realm and I feel so a part of them and not like the older outsider. So it’s hard to define the exact characteristic. I’m just excited to share that with them.”
Ashley Sledge graduated in December 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in public relations but is pursuing a second degree in general studies. She’s a member of the Alabama Student-Athlete Advisory Committee’s executive committee.
At times during her career, Sledge has competed All-Around for the Tide, but stars on uneven bars, vault and floor exercise. Sledge is one of the vocal leaders on the team and leads by example.
Williams said Sledge took her under her wing when she got on campus.
“I feel like [Ashley] Sledge has been my mentor since I got here,” Williams said. “Last year, she took me under her wing and helped me through all of those tough times and kept telling me it was going to get better and that I have what it takes and I can do this because there were a lot of times that I got down on myself. She’s just been that motivating person for me.”