The No. 1 Alabama gymnastics team (9-2, 5-1 SEC) finished its regular season with a win over No. 10 Michigan (13-3, 4-1 Big 10) 197.575-196.876 on Friday night in Coleman Coliseum. The last time these two teams met in Tuscaloosa was in 2003.
The last home meet was also Senior Night. The five seniors on the team were honored before the meet in front of the 13,633 people in Coleman Coliseum. The high attendance gave Alabama a season average of 13,786 fans per meet, breaking the school and SEC record, which was set originally at 12,578 in 2006. It was also the second-highest attendance average in the history of collegiate gymnastics.
Head coach Sarah Patterson said she had been worried about the attendance for her seniors after learning Senior Night fell during the University’s spring break.
“I just think it’s such a testimony to the fans and their affection for these athletes and the program,” she said. “I couldn’t have been more excited to see those people there tonight, not for any other reason but for the seniors.”
Both teams tied on the vault, each scoring 49.350. However, Alabama’s 49.350 on the uneven bars trumped Michigan’s 49.075 on the bars, giving the Tide the edge after the first two events, with a total score of 98.700-98.425.
Patterson said the emotion of Senior Night affected the Crimson Tide’s vault scores, and her team needed to settle down initially.
“I think everybody’s vaults were bigger than they normally are,” she said, “and we had a hard time sticking our landings, but the ladies did a great job coming back on the next few events.”
On the vault, senior Morgan Dennis earned the team-high score of 9.950, and Michigan’s Kylee Botterman matched it with her own 9.950. While on the uneven bars, junior Kayla Hoffman earned a 9.9 and sophomore Ashley Priess earned a 9.925. Michigan’s highest score on the bars was a 9.875.
Priess and Dennis tied for second in the all around with 39.500, but Botterman took the title with a 39.550.
After Dennis completed her floor routine, the team came out onto the floor mat, hugging all the seniors together. When the meet officially ended, pink and white streamers fell to further honor the seniors.
“It was amazing,” Dennis said. “I’m never going to get anything like that again. My years here have been so awesome. When everybody came and started cheering, that was when it hit that it was my last routine.”
Michigan had defeated No. 4 Georgia the weekend before, moving them up into the No. 10 slot. This was the third week in a row for Alabama to be No. 1 and the sixth week for the season. The team had a weekend off prior to this meet.
“It definitely helped me physically, mentally and emotionally to recharge and relight the passion for the postseason,” Priess said.
Next up for the Tide is its first postseason meet this Saturday, the Southeastern Conference Championships, where the team will defend its 2009 SEC title. In this conference for gymnastics, there are only seven schools competing, but all of them are ranked in the top 20.
“I think the biggest thing is we’re not any better than any team on any given night,” Patterson said, “but there’s no team that’s better than us. If we come out and do our very best job, I think we are the best team in the country.”