TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — No. 2 Alabama won its 26th NCAA Regional Championship Saturday night, advancing to its 29th consecutive NCAA Championship with a 197.275 in front of a Coleman Coliseum crowd of 8,174.
“There were some top seeds around the country tonight that didn’t advance,” UA head coach Sarah Patterson said. “So I’m just very, very thankful. I thought our fans were great, I thought our team was great and did exactly what they had to do.”
The top two teams advance to the NCAA Championships and while the Crimson Tide punched its ticket out the NCAA Tuscaloosa Regional after the fifth rotation, the battle for second place came down to the last balance beam routine of the night, with No. 3 seeded Illinois just edging No. 2 seed Penn State, 195.925-195.825. Auburn, which was sitting on a bye in the sixth rotation, finished fourth with a 195.600. Kentucky capped the night off with a score 195.175, while Central Michigan finished sixth with a 195.075.
“It’s that time of year where, if you don’t do your job out there on this night, you may not advance,” Patterson said. “You saw tonight how close it was for second place.”
Both Alabama and Illinois will make the trip to Cleveland, Ohio to vie for the NCAA Championship April 15-18. It will be the Illini’s second trip to the final site.
The Tide was consistent on its first three events, scoring a 49.275 to start the night on the floor exercise, followed by a 49.250 on both the vault and uneven bars.
“We started out a little tight tonight on floor exercise, we scored quite well, a 49.275 is a great score, but we were just a little tight,” Patterson said. “As the meet went on though, we got in a comfort zone and did better. “
Leading by a comfortable margin going into its last event, the Tide exploded on the balance beam with a 49.5, anchored by a trio of 9.9s from freshman Kim Jacob, senior Kayla Hoffman and freshman Sarah DeMeo and a huge exclamation-point from junior Geralen Stack-Eaton who closed out the Tide’s night with a meet-best 9.95.
“Really, I can’t think of a better balance beam performance than we had tonight,” Patterson said. “We’ll take definitely take that into Cleveland.”
Hoffman won the all-around with a 39.650, the second highest score of her career, and was named the NCAA Central Regional Gymnast of the Year. She also won the vault with a 9.925, the uneven bars with a 9.90 and floor exercise with a 9.925 in her last meet in Coleman Coliseum.
“I think it was much better that I didn’t focus on the fact that it was my last meet in Coleman,” Hoffman said. “I just realized it when I got off the beam. But when I did realize it, it was really special to celebrate with everyone.”
Stack-Eaton gave the Tide a sweep of the individual events with her first place finish on the balance beam.