2011 National Champions. A claim that can be made by two teams in Tuscaloosa. 2011 SEC Champions, not a crimson football helmet to be found. However while softball also took an SEC crown, the defending champion we focus on this weekend will be our beloved Crimson Tide Gymnastics team led by living legend and grass-roots-statue-candidate, Sarah Patterson.
SEC Gymnastics Championships. Duluth, Ga. March 24th (the national championships will also be in Duluth on the 21st of April).
The names on our team you should know are Jr. Ashley Sledge, Jr. Marissa Gutierrez, So. Kim Jacob, So. Sarah DeMeo, So. Diandra "Dee" Milliner, Fr. Kayla Williams and, most importantly, Sr. Ashley Priess and Sr. Geralen Stack-Eaton. Only Kayla Williams will probably not be featured too much as she is returning from an pre season injury and just a freshman. She's notable as she won a world championship (not like world series/Canada-USA... but actual world, she was going against top American, Chinese and European gymnasts) on the vault before coming to Bama.
Now..... what you should know: (in order of threat level) (in reality UA and UF are a virtual tie but I'm putting us first).
ALABAMA: Alabama has dealt with the pressure of being defending champs pretty well. A slow start in the season sparked some worries but the Tide have adjusted and look in post season shape right as they should be. This is a sport where "peaking" too soon, too early or just right... is a very big deal and if you don't believe it just scroll down to Florida. Bama seems to be hitting their stride at the just the right time and these SEC championships should give insight to our National Title hopes. Stack-Eaton and Priess have assumed the roles of team leaders beautifully and the enormous freshman class of last year seems to be maturing nicely. Of the new comers, Fr. Kaitlyn Clark has been the most called upon performer. Fr. Kayla Williams was the most heralded recruit but has come into the lineup slowly. In fact she finally preformed on something other than the vault on the last home meet of the season. Fr. Brooke Parker and Fr. Hunter Dennis (baby sis of Bama legend Morgan Dennis).... are also on the team (though both have preformed very well on their limited game time). The stars are hitting consistently and the supporting cast is doing great. Unless something happens between now and Saturday, count us among the favorites to repeat as SEC Champions.
Gymnasts to keep an eye on: All of them ROLL TIDE!
FLORIDA It's been all Florida, all the time. That can sum up this year as well as last. In 2011, the Tumblin Gators blew out everyone in their way en route to..... a preliminary meltdown. In fact they got almost got Duke-Lehiegh'd in the earliest round of nationals by lower tier Boise State. This added another chapter to the tortured history of Gator gymnastics and further solidified their status as "regular season world beaters, post season egg beaters." They choke, it can almost be counted on at this point. What's even more galling (for them, not us) is UF routinely brings in elite (blue-chip) level freshmen every year and has two SEC trophy in the past five years to show for it. They have NEVER won an NCAA title so I guess it makes them the Miami Heat of the College Gym scene. Nevertheless Florida is a dangerous team and are among the two favorites (we're the other, roll tide!) to win it all in Georgia's back yard. DO NOT take them lightly.
Gymnasts to keep an eye on: Mackenzie Caquatto, Marissa King, Kytra Hunter, Ashanee Dickerson and Alaina Johnson
Now our nemisis. GEORGIA: If you need to know why we can't stand Georgia, even in a relatively low point in their program history, just google "Sarah Patterson Suzanne Yoculan." That should clear everything up. Now, Jay Clark, the current 3rd year head coach (but has been with the program since before Friends was on the air) led the Gym Dogs, the most dominate program of the previous decade.... off a cliff.... in a matter of one season. In his first year, inhereting a team where every member had a national championship ring except the freshmen, they failed to finish in the top 5 for the first time in eons. Scratch that, they failed to make the top 12 for the first time since there was an NCAA championship. Think of Miami football going from 80s Miami to 2010s Miami in the course of one season. Jay Clark was very much on the hot seat with the trophy starved fans (just enter his name over at Dawg Sports search and smile at the tirades) as home losses mounted and seats attendance went down. Well, fortunately for him, 2012 has been a resurgent year for the Dawgs. They have finally begun putting up championship-ish quality scores and almost knocked us off in Coleman earlier this year (no thanks to our own falls). Not only will Georgia be looking to avoid a third straight year of a third place finish (first in program history i believe). But not winning, and this is telling of their historical dominance, will leave the UGA seniors as the first class to graduate without an SEC championship ring since the 70s.
Gymnasts to keep an eye on: Kat Ding, Noel Couch, Christa Tanella, Shayla Worley, Gina Nuccio, Chealsa Davis and Sarah Persinger.
Those are the threats.... beyond the jump is some dirt on the other SEC teams. But first a look back at our 2011 title which took place in Birmingham in front of a 80% Bama crowd. Legions of Georgia fans will be hissing at us this go around.
2011 SEC CHAMPIONS
Alabama Gymnastics: The 2011 SEC Champions (via BamaGymnastics)
ARKANSAS. I guess you could call them a threat. They blasted out of the gates this season with their highest performances in program history and claimed a #1 ranking. Oh yeah, the Arkansas program was started in 2003, so mad props to head coaches Mark and Renee Cook. Their stars are Jaime Pisani (this girl is legit) and Katherine Grable and that's also where their issues begin. Grable has been out with an ankle injury and Akransas has taken a nose dive.
LSU D-D Breaux's Tigers blasted onto the scene at the end of the last decade, culminating in 2 straight Super Six (national finals) appearances. Since the last in 2009, LSU has cooled down and resumed their mid-tier program status. However the coach declared this years freshman class to be better than the girls that lead the past coming out party and so far.... they've preformed quite well. Everyone knew Fr. Rheagan Courville would be good, Fr. Jessie Jordan as been solid and Fr. Randii Lau..... is also on the team. The break out star/fan fav has been Lloimencia Hall who is also solid on all event but it's her gyrating floor routines rack up the hits on youtube and other gymnastic video sites. Sarie Morrison and Maliah Mathis are others worth watching.
AUBURN In college gymnastics, coaches are prone to very long tenures. Our own Sarah Patterson was hired by A.D. Paul William Bryant and many other top coaches have been at their post for over 25 years. This is not the case with Auburn. They are in year 2 of the Jeff Graba era.... and for the first time it seems like AU has a coach who knows what he's doing. Graba was hired away from his assistant job at Utah and asked to revive a program that hasn't beaten Bama in over 100 tries and had never beat Georgia. So far he's 1 for 2 and almost made it 2 for 2 in 2 years with Bama escaping the plains with a narrow victory (#104 to be exact). Auburn is not a threat quite yet but be on the look out for them in the future.
KENTUCKY They will get off the team bus and finish sixth and go back to the U of K. (ok, they have been the perennial doormat of the conference but they have a new head coach this year, and like Graba, Tim Garrison is from a legit program and will look to build something in Lexington.
MISSOURI Our new brethren! Of the 2 new additions to the SEC, Mizzou has a team and they're pretty good. They do not compete this year but if they did I'd place them in between Arkansas and Auburn as a threat.
Our most recent meet. Senior night!
Alabama Gymnastics: The 2012 North Carolina Meet (via BamaGymnastics)