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February 8, 2013

Tide will have challenge against No. 1 Gators

TUSCALOOSA | University of Alabama gymnastics coach Sarah Patterson prefers that her team peak at the right time, rather than stack up top score after top score early in the regular season only to stumble in the postseason when it matters most.

"We're not like football where if we lose one meet you can't contend for the national championship," Patterson said. "For us, what we've done best over the years is we have built and peaked at the right time. I don't hate to lose, but if we're getting better and we're getting deeper and we're making the adjustments we need … then I think that helps us."

The Crimson Tide will face the No. 1 Florida Gators Friday for the first time since Alabama edged Florida by .075 to win the 2012 national championship.

The two teams are taking different paths to the same goal: a national championship. Florida is off to a scorching start in 2013, posting three straight scores of 197 or above.

Alabama, meanwhile, is using the slow and steady approach. The Crimson Tide hasn't crossed the 197 threshold yet and suffered its first loss of the season Saturday at Georgia. But even in defeat, Alabama posted its highest team score of the season, and is slowly building each week so that it is at its best at the NCAA championships.

"This team does a great job with peaking at the right time," senior Ashley Sledge said. "You win some, you lose some. I think it's just going to make us that much better."

Florida seems to come so close every year, but still has not joined the elite group of teams that has won an NCAA championship. The Gators have won eight Southeastern Conference championships, one more than Alabama, but never a national title.

"For the last four years, I've voted [Florida] No. 1 in my preseason poll," Patterson said. "I thought they were the most talented team in the country. When we won in 2011 everyone was surprised. And I think [former UA gymnast] Kayla Hoffman said it the best: sometimes it's not the most talented team that wins, sometimes it's the heart and the intangibles that surround you."

Alabama faces top teams week in and week out - all but one team on its 2013 schedule is currently ranked in the top 25 - and that's by design. The team feels that it can benefit from being put in pressure situations so that when the postseason comes, it isn't intimidated by the competition.

"We can't control what Florida does," Sledge said. "Florida is an absolutely great team, they're No. 1 in the nation right now. But all we can do is what we can do and we're just focusing on the little things that will make us a good team vs. a great team."


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