Alabama Gymnastics Opens Its 2012 Season at Home Friday with Georgia

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – The Alabama gymnastics team certainly isn’t easing into the 2012 season. The defending NCAA and Southeastern Conference Champions open their season, home and Southeastern Conference slate on Friday, Jan. 13 at 7:30 p.m. in Coleman Coliseum against 10-time NCAA Champion Georgia.

“Georgia comes in here with a chip on their shoulder,” UA head coach Sarah Patterson, in her 34th season coaching the Crimson Tide, said. “We beat them at their arena last year and we beat them at the SEC and national championships last year. They started their season last week by posting the highest score in the country.”

One of the best rivalries in collegiate athletics, Alabama-Georgia continues to bring an air of excitement to whatever arena they compete in, having combined to win 15 of the last 25 NCAA Championships.

“It’s a big rivalry,” Patterson said. “You go back to 1987 when they won their first championship, and then we won in 1988 – every year that we are going to win a championship, we have to get through Georgia and if they want to win one, they’ve got to get through us.”

Georgia got its season underway by posting the highest score in the country last week, a 196.525, to start the season with a win over Denver in Athens, Ga. For the Tide, Friday marks the first time it has opened the season with a dual meet against the Gym Dogs since 1985, two years before either team won a national title. Opening with such a big meet doesn’t change the team’s preparation, but it does pump up the atmosphere.

“It doesn’t really matter who we were facing, we’d be going through the same things and trying to prepare the ladies in the same way,” Patterson said. “But I think there’s a little more bounce in their step when they’re competing against Georgia.”

In addition to being the defending national and conference champions, Alabama comes into this season a far more experienced team than it was a year ago when nearly half the roster, eight gymnasts in all, were freshmen and the Tide had just lost four All-Americans to graduation. While this year’s team is without 2011 national gymnast of the year Kayla Hoffman, it returns eight All-Americans, including senior NCAA floor exercise champion Geralen Stack-Eaton, and all but four routines from last year’s national championship squad.

Among the Tide’s All-American contingent is Ashley Priess, who was sidelined last year after surgery on both ankles prior to the season. Patterson calls the returning Priess “the best recruit in the country” coming into this season. In addition to its 13 veterans, the Tide also has five freshmen on its roster, including Hunter Dennis, the sister of UA NCAA Champion and eight-time All-American Morgan Dennis, who joined the Tide on the first day of classes after graduating early from high school. Her addition pushes Alabama’s roster to 18, making it the largest in program history.

Alabama’s opener will also feature the large variety of promotions and giveaways during the meet – from iPod Shuffles and t-shirts to gift cards to local restaurants and gas cards – that has become the trademark of the Tide’s home meets. There will also be giveaways geared specifically to UA students, including a laptop and two $50 gift cards.

During the Tide’s first three home meets, Tuscaloosa Toyota will be making a $200 donation for every 9.8 or better score by an Alabama gymnast toward assistant coach Dana Duckworth’s ReadBAMARead foundation which was created to help restock school libraries that were destroyed during April’s devastating tornado.

Season and individual meet tickets are available through the Alabama Ticket Office (205.348.2262), located in the lobby of Coleman Coliseum, and online at RollTide.com.

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