‘All gratitude and joy’
Bama's Priess supports her decision to stay for fifth year
LOS ANGELES -- It would have been easy for Ashley Priess to end her gymnastic career last year and be extremely satisfied.
The fifth-year senior couldn’t have written a better finish. At the 2012 NCAA championships, she clinched Alabama’s consecutive title with a score of 9.95 on the balance beam.
“It was definitely a fairytale moment for me,” Priess said. “I know I couldn’t have asked for a better year.”
So why come back? She had graduated with a degree in Spanish and was now working on a Masters in Sport Management. Why commit so much time and sacrifice to a sport she had already attained pretty much all she could?
It had nothing to do with the titles, as she was part of two national championships, though she played a limited role in the 2011 title because of surgery to both ankles.
This was for a much more personal reason.
“I wanted to be with the team again,” Priess said. “There was nothing more I could accomplish in my gymnastics career. That was the perfect end to my senior year but there were so many great times throughout the year and I’m never going to be in that place again with 16 sisters and we are all going for the same goal and I wanted that experience again.”
Plus, the team had more celebrating to do after the 2012 victory. It won by the slimmest of margins, squeaking by top-seeded Florida 197.85 to 197.775.
“It was overwhelming when we did win,” Priess said. “Everyone was jumping up and down and crying and hugging each other, looking at our fans and seeing that sense of pride in our program, it was another moment that adds to that tradition.”
That is an addictive feeling and one Priess would have liked to repeat.
“It is all about the journey,” Priess said. “It was the relationships and the away meets and being at home and competing in front of the crowd. It was really about my teammates.”
The bond that she and her 16 other teammates have is something Priess knows she won’t be able to replicate and wanted to enjoy that atmosphere as long as she could.
“I really think what we have with the bond is unmatchable and I feel even more strongly about it this year than any other year I’ve been here,” Priess said. “The friendships and having your back is really the reason I chose to come here. I don’t know if it’s our Southern culture, our coaches, the tradition, but we are truly 17 sisters. We don’t bicker, we don’t argue, we truly love each other as cliché as that sounds, its true.”
It also gave Priess the chance to give back to the program in a small way.
“I’ve always felt like I’ve had a lot of experience to add to the younger girls, especially this year,” Priess said. “I feel like this has been a great opportunity for me to pass on those learning moments to the younger girls. I can show them maybe I took a wrong road or made a bad decision and maybe I can guide them in a different direction. I hope it can continue to be a domino effect and the older ones can pass it on to the younger ones.”
That has made all the work worth it for Priess.
“I have not had one moment of regret,” Priess said. “Of course practice gets old and you think I’ve done this for four years now, but the good so outweighs the bad. There has never been a moment where I wished I hadn’t done this. It’s been all gratitude and joy that I had the opportunity to come back.”