No. 2 Gymnastics Beats No. 14 Penn State, 195.350-192.750

Diandra Milliner, who was in high school this time last month, competed in the three events on Friday.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – The No. 2 ranked Alabama gymnastics team opened the 2011 season with a 195.350-192.750 win over No. 14 Penn State, led by a mix of youth and experience in front of 9,366 fans in Coleman Coliseum. The win moves coaches Sarah and David Patterson’s record in home openers to 43-1-1 over the course of their UA careers.

“I’m really proud of our team and where we started out,” UA head coach Sarah Patterson said. “I said going into this meet that this is the youngest team probably in the 33 years of coaching here. I think we replaced 17 routines from the national championships last year.”

The Tide’s lineup was filled with routines from its freshmen class, including all-around performances from Sarah DeMeo and Kim Jacob, and a three-routine outing from Diandra Milliner, who arrived on campus on Dec. 26 after graduating early from Maize High School. All three women made an immediate impact on the Tide’s fortunes. Milliner earned a share of first on the vault with a 9.9 while DeMeo won the balance beam with a 9.925.

“Our freshmen have stepped up,” Patterson said. “I feel like they were very prepared. They stayed calm and confident, and that’s what I asked them to do.”

Not to be outdone, the Tide’s veterans made some noise of their own. Senior Kayala Hoffman shared first place on the vault and won the all-around with a 39.500, tying her career best, and the floor exercise with a 9.900 performance that brought the crowd to its feet. Sophomore Ashley Sledge started her sophomore year out the same way she did her rookie season, by winning the uneven bars, posting a 9.850 to take top honors.

“I think we still have so many people returning, and we all just hold our reputation and our tradition together,” Hoffman said. “Once again we are going to show everybody we are a team of excellence, and we are going to do well all the way to the end.”

The Tide’s freshmen showed their mettle on the balance beam. After UA opened up with a pair of falls by upperclassmen, Jacob came up in the third spot and calmly hit her routine, posting a 9.8 to get Alabama back on track. Two routines later DeMeo posted a meet-high 9.925. Hoffman scored a 9.875 and junior Geralen Stack-Eaton, who was doubtful for the meet after tweaking her knee during a practice just after Christmas, closed things out with a 9.825, leading Alabama to a 48.425. Penn State scored a 49.450 on the balance beam.

Alabama’s freshmen didn’t just see action early, they saw it first when Jacob and DeMeo who both scored 9.65, went first and second, respectively, in the Tide’s initial event, the vault. Sophomore Ashley Sledge hit her first vault in UA’s competitive lineup, scoring a 9.875. Alabama closed out the rotation with twin 9.9s from Hoffman and Milliner, leading the Tide to a 49.15 team mark. Penn State scored a 47.725 on the vault.

Alabama posted a 48.8 on the uneven bars, boosted by Sledge’s 9.85 and 9.825s from DeMeo and Hoffman. Penn State scored a 48.425 on the uneven bars.

While the Tide freshmen got the meet started, it was Hoffman, the Tide’s senior leader, that closed things out with an exclamation point of a routine, going 9.9 on the floor exercise to the approval of a roaring Coliseum crowd, leading UA to a 48.975. Milliner added a 9.85 on the floor while Jacob went 9.75 from the leadoff spot and sophomore Marissa Gutierrez scored a 9.775 and senior Alyssa Chapman scored a 9.7. The Nittany Lions scored a 48.150 on the floor.

Alabama returns to action next Friday in its first road meet of the season when it travels to Fayetteville, Ark., to take on the Arkansas Razorbacks.

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