Tide prepares for Gators, practices for postseason

Tide prepares for Gators, practices for postseason

Upon returning from a second-place finish at the Perfect 10 Challenge in Oklahoma City on Sunday, Alabama gymnastics coach Sarah Patterson wrote “.025” in big, black numbers at the top of the white board that hangs in the team’s practice facility.

She challenged gymnasts to write their names underneath it if they felt they could improve their routines by .025, the smallest margin possible. By Monday, the names and routines stretched to the bottom of the board.

Those small improvements are often the difference between winning a national championship and finishing in third or fourth place. And they will be critical as the No. 4 Crimson Tide enters a stretch of three straight home meets to end the regular season, starting Friday with the No. 3 Florida Gators.

(See also "UA Gymnastics to defend streak at Auburn")

“The beginning of the season is kind of get your feet wet, get the freshmen used to it, start getting some good away scores and stuff,” senior Kim Jacob said. “But now is the time we need to start hitting our stride. We’ve kept improving every week, and now we just need to hit that point where we have no doubts and we can go into the end of the season with total confidence.”

The Gators have turned into a rival of sorts for Alabama.

In 2013, Florida won its first NCAA gymnastics championship, helped by a late collapse by Alabama. The year before, the Crimson Tide edged out the Gators by less than a tenth of a point.

Florida had been waiting to break through into the elite group of teams that have won a gymnastics national championship, and last year it finally did.

(See also "Alabama gymnastics team turns in best score of season, completes late comeback against Georgia")

“I feel like the last three or four years, they were the team that had the most talent and could have won the national championship,” Patterson said. “When we won in ’11 and ’12, we were not the most talented team, but we were the best team on the last night. And that’s okay because that’s where a lot of our championships have come from. So once they conquered that and won last year, I think they’re a great program.”

But winning and losing won’t be as important to Alabama as fixing the little things – the .025s – before the postseason begins. With both SECs and NCAAs in Birmingham, the Tide only has one more meet, regionals, that will be outside of the state.

“The timing of it is good,” Patterson said. “Hopefully we can capitalize on being here at home and having a great crowd. But I also think that with the stress that comes with school, now there’s tests, papers, midterms, all that kind of stuff is hitting last week and this week. And we don’t have to be traveling and taking them out of class.”

So while there may be small changes here or there, the final three weeks of the regular season will be about going from good to great to be in a position to win when it matters.

“These three weeks at home give us an opportunity to be in a great comfort zone in terms of making upgrades to our routines, changes, differences in the lineups,” Patterson said. “Anything we’re going to do, we’ve got a three-week window before the championship season starts.”

(See also "Crimson Tide gymnastics team opens season with bang")

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