Freshman Lauren Beers scored a 9.9 on the floor exercise in Alabama’s regular season finale win over Oklahoma. (Photo courtesy of UA Athletics)
Earlier in the week, Alabama gymnastics coach Sarah Patterson had a strong theme of emotion management going into Senior Night against No. 1 Oklahoma, trying to let her seniors enjoy the moment while keeping them focused on the task.
Patterson got the focus she wanted, as the senior class finished without a home loss after toppling the previously 19-0 Sooners 197.525-196.900, but could not keep the tears from streaming down senior Ashley Sledge’s face before the meet.
“When we went and got introduced, it was pretty emotional,” Sledge said, slyly adding, “for some of us,” with a light chuckle knowing she hadn’t fooled anyone.
The night had a perfect ending for Sledge, walking off the floor exercise having just earned a 9.875 with waves and blown kisses for the fans in attendance. And it was nearly taken away by one outstretched arm a few hours before.
“Sledge almost had to talk me into putting her out there, because (assistant coach) Bryan (Raschilla) kind of had to turn her over on one of her tumbling passes,” Patterson said.
At the end of the night, Priess, like the rest of her teammates, left the gym with a supreme level of confidence as the Tide moves into postseason competition next week with the SEC Championship in Little Rock, Ark.
“I think tonight’s meet was a real confidence-booster,” redshirt senior Ashley Priess said. “We had some real standout moments on all four events, really. I wouldn’t say we’re at our best in every event, but there are easy areas where we can improve in practice and I don’t think this team can be any more confident going into postseason.”
Few athletes have progressed as far as freshman Lauren Beers, who competed in three events and scored a 9.9 or higher on two of them, including a 9.95 on vault.
“I am absolutely thrilled with Lauren,” Sledge said. “Just going from not competing to competing events and exhibitioning (balance) beam tonight, she did a fantastic job. We’re searching for that bar spot, and I think she definitely did her job in her spot.
“Gosh, she has just come such a long way.”
Patterson labeled Beers as a key component for the team’s advancement since Marissa Gutierrez’s ankle injury that has sidelined her for the last three weeks.
“I think if you look at why our team has progressed, I think if Lauren hadn’t stepped up in the capacity she’s in and we don’t have Marissa in there, we’re not scoring what we’re scoring,” Patterson said.