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July 22, 2012TUSCALOOSA | As the two-time defending NCAA champions, the University of Alabama gymnastics team goes into the 2013 season with a larger than normal target on its back. For head coach Sarah Patterson that makes the Crimson Tide's already extremely competitive schedule even tougher.
"Any time you go into a season as the defending champion, everyone on your schedule circles that meet in red," Patterson said. "We're facing the most competitive schedule we have assembled in several years. The ultimate goal is to prepare our ladies to be on the floor the last night of the season with a chance to win a championship. We want to be the best and to do that you have to compete against the best week in and week out."
Alabama's regular-season schedule, released this week, includes six teams that advanced to last year's NCAA championships, including runner-up Florida and third place UCLA, along with Arkansas and Oklahoma, which finished sixth and seventh, respectively. Overall, every team on the Tide's upcoming schedule finished in the top-25 last season.
"There are no surprises on this schedule," said Patterson, heading into her 35th season as Tide coach. "Every team on there is talented and well coached and every single meet is going to be tough."
The Tide will face the Gators and Razorbacks on the road along with Georgia, which finished 11th last season, and LSU, which finished ninth. Alabama starts the 2013 season on the road against newly minted Southeastern Conference member Missouri.
After starting things off on the road, the Tide opens a tough home slate against LSU, in the first of two regular-season meetings, and Kentucky on back-to-back weekends. The Kentucky meet on Friday, Jan. 25, will be the Tide's annual Power of Pink meet, helping raise awareness in the fight against breast cancer.
Alabama will also face in-state rival Auburn in a critical midseason clash in Coleman Coliseum before finishing out its regular-season home schedule with the Bruins and Sooners, both of which will likely be ranked in the top three when the preseason poll is revealed.
The Tide's last month of the regular season will feature four consecutive dates against teams that finished in the top 10 nationally last season. The firepower on this year's schedule is impressive, with Alabama, UCLA and Georgia accounting for each of the last 16 NCAA championships and 22 of the 31 titles overall. In addition, both Florida and Oklahoma have become perennial contenders, finishing runner-up at the national championships the last three years.
"This schedule will be a challenge to our gymnasts," Patterson said. "Preparation for the 2013 championships is already under way and I look forward to the return of our team in August, welcoming freshmen Carly Sims and Lauren Beers, and the start of official practice on September 16."
The postseason begins Saturday, March 23 with the SEC Championships in Little Rock, Ark., while Alabama will host the NCAA Regional Championships on Saturday, April 6. The NCAA Championships return to Los Angles and Pauley Pavilion for the first time since 2004 with host UCLA looking for its seventh national championship and first since 2010.
"It's always great for our ladies and our fans when we can host a championship," Patterson said. "Coleman Coliseum is one of the best environments in collegiate athletics and that rises to an entirely different level during a championship."
Alabama will be going for its seventh NCAA Championship, eighth SEC crown and 28th regional title this season.