Alabama wins second straight gymnastics title
DULUTH, Ga. (AP) -- The NCAA women's gymnastics championship came down to the final routine, just as Alabama coach Sarah Patterson expected.
Patterson was confident because she had senior Ashley Priess set for that last routine.
Priess closed Alabama's decisive balance beam rotation with a 9.950 and the Crimson Tide edged No. 1 seed Florida to win its second straight championship on Saturday.
Alabama won its sixth title by posting a 197.850 to beat Florida's 197.775, giving the Southeastern Conference the top two spots in its Super Six showdown with the Pac-12.
Entering the final rotation, Florida led Alabama by only .025. The Gators scored a 49.40 on their final routine, the floor exercise, and Alabama won with its 49.50 on the beam.
"I realized our scores had matched up with theirs pretty well and it was going to come down to that last routine," Patterson said.
Florida closed its floor routine with a 9.925 from all-around champion Kytra Hunter.
"I knew that Ashley was going on the balance beam, and I knew it came down to that routine," Patterson said.
If Priess knew the championship would be decided by her routine, she didn't show any sign of pressure.
"There really was nothing in my mind that I have to stick this or I really need a good score," Priess said. "Championships always come down to the last routine. No matter if it was a close meet or not close, I knew I had to do my job.
"The only thing that was going through my mind was to be calm, cool and collected and just do my job."
When Priess completed her near-perfect performance, the Alabama fans in the crowd of 5,495 erupted with a roar that was renewed when the team scores were announced.
UCLA was third at 197.750, followed by Stanford (197.500), Utah (197.375) and Arkansas (196.300). Only SEC and Pac-12 teams advanced to the Super Six from Friday's semifinals.
"I said going into this championship that this would be the closest and most contentious championship that I had ever coached in," Patterson said. "I just felt with the quality of the teams, it was going to come down to the very end."
The Gators had their sixth top-five finish in the last seven years but again were denied their first title.
Florida coach Rhonda Faehn called the close loss "extremely painful and hard."
"But at the same time I look at what our athletes did accomplish and how incredible they did," Faehn said. "I'm super proud of them. Of course we wanted to win, but there can only be one winner. This is incredible motivation for all of our athletes. We feel that we did everything right this season and it was just one little thing. They're going to carry this and they should be very proud of this performance and use it as fuel for next year too."
Senior Geralen Stack-Eaton led Alabama's floor exercise with a 9.950 after scoring a 9.975 on the vault. Diandra Milliner added a 9.950 on the vault as Alabama's 49.625 topped the strong 49.525 vault total posted by UCLA early in the day.
UCLA was led by junior Vanessa Zamarripa's 10.0 on vault - the only perfect score of the meet - and career-best 39.775 all-around score. Zamarripa finished the regular season ranked No. 1 on the vault for the third time in her career.
Former Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, the likely No. 1 pick by Indianapolis in next week's NFL draft, wore a white and red Stanford volleyball T-shirt as he sat with other Cardinal fans. He was cheering for his girlfriend, Stanford senior Nicole Pechanec.
Luck declined a request to discuss the draft. "I'd really rather not. I'm here for gymnastics today," he said. The Associated Press reported Thursday a person with direct knowledge of the situation said that the Colts have notified Luck that they plan to make him the No. 1 pick.
ESPN baseball analyst Joe Morgan sat a few rows from Luck. Morgan's daughter is Stanford junior Ashley Morgan.
Attendance at the final session was 5,495, following totals of 3,831 and 4,286 at Friday's two sessions.
The individual championships will be decided on Sunday.
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