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March 15, 2013TUSCALOOSA | Even though the University of Alabama gymnastics team has scored higher than 197 in its last four meets and posted its highest score of the season last week against LSU, it still feels like it has not hit its peak potential, mostly because a couple of key cogs in the Crimson Tide's lineup have been limited or held out completely.
"We absolutely haven't," senior Ashley Sledge said. "Which is so encouraging that we have that much depth on our team to score 197.75 without several people who have all the experience in the world."
Senior Marissa Gutierrez will likely miss her third straight meet with an ankle injury tonight, when No. 4 Alabama hosts No. 1 Oklahoma in its regular-season finale.
And senior Ashley Priess has not vaulted all year after competing in the all-around twice during the 2012 regular season and postseason. Priess' fragile ankles have made coach Sarah Patterson hold her back during 2013, but the star senior is expected to go full speed ahead sooner than later with the postseason in view.
"But you haven't seen our team drop," Patterson said. "Our scores have stayed the same or gotten higher. So if we could just somehow get that puzzle put together with all the right pieces at the end, I think we have a lot of potential."
Priess anchored Alabama during last season's national championship run, but missed the 2011 season after having double ankle surgery in the previous offseason. She decided to return for a fifth year this season, using 2011 as a redshirt year, but has yet to compete in all four events, with Patterson saving her for the final stretch.
"My ankles are really feeling pretty good," Priess said. "I think that's because the coaches have done a great job of monitoring my workouts and helping me pace in the best way. I haven't been competing vault and I've only competed floor a couple of times. That's helped me stay healthy and prepare for the postseason."
Patterson will have to decide whether she wants Priess back in the all-around against the No. 1 team in the country tonight. The Crimson Tide doesn't necessarily need to win the meet - just post another high score - but beating the top team would give Alabama a wave of confidence it could ride into the postseason.
"It's also a risk versus reward thing," Patterson said. "She doesn't have ankles like some of the other ones and it just takes one bad landing. If we lose that on an event when we have someone there to do it, it will hurt. You have to make the best decision for your team. All of our girls understand that."