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March 25, 2013

GYMNASTICS: Alabama gets needed break before regional

TUSCALOOSA | The Tuscaloosa Regional will have a mountain feel to it April 6 in Coleman Coliseum.

The No. 3 University of Alabama gymnastics team will host No. 9 Utah, No. 15 Denver, No. 23 Kent State, No. 30 Brigham Young and No. 35 Iowa State at 6 p.m, April 6, the NCAA announced Monday. The top two finishers will advance to the NCAA Championships in Los Angeles.

"This is probably the most important meet of the year," senior Ashley Priess said. "I think a lot of times it's easy to take regionals for granted, but this is so important - this is what qualifies you for nationals."

Alabama hasn't seen any of the other five teams during the season but is still very familiar with one. Utah and Alabama are a part of a select group of four teams that have won an NCAA championship in women's gymnastics.

Utah has appeared in 31 NCAA Championships, while Alabama has been to 30. The Utes have won 10 NCAA titles, compared to six for the Crimson Tide.

"What you're seeing here is you're seeing two of the most historic programs in NCAA women's gymnastics," UA coach Sarah Patterson said. "If you're a follower of women's gymnastics, you know that they have won a tremendous amount of championships."

The Crimson Tide will have two weeks to prepare for the competition, and it couldn't come at a better time. Senior Ashley Sledge was held out of the Southeastern Conference Championships last Saturday with a sore back, while senior Marissa Gutierrez could compete only on vault, her first performance since spraining her ankle four weeks ago against Arkansas.

"We're going to take this week to take it down a notch and let some people recover and then pick it back up and be ready when it's time to go for the regional," Sledge said. "We'll definitely need to take a little bit of a break, though, to maintain that high."

Alabama is on a high after posting a season-best 197.90 score at the SEC Championships, good enough for second place. Patterson, however, said it's best to step down a bit emotionally before rising back up for postseason competition.

"We're at that point where we don't want to overdo anything," Patterson said. "Not having a competition will give them a break, and then next week we'll ramp it back up."

Being able to host a regional gives the Crimson Tide an advantage as opposed to having to travel for one, like it did to Seattle last year.

"It helps a lot, just with the bodies, not having to sit on the plane for that long, the travel," junior Kim Jacob said. "Plus, it's our home arena, we know the equipment and we'll have all our fans there. I think it'll help tremendously."



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