TUSCALOOSA, AL. – The NCAA Tuscaloosa Gymnastics Regional Championships gets things rolling with Friday's practice day, during which the six teams and nine individuals assigned here this weekend will get used to the equipment and surroundings in Coleman Coliseum.
Then, come Saturday at 6 p.m., things gets started in earnest as the six teams battle for one of two NCAA Championship berths available out of the Tuscaloosa Regional.
"We would love to win another regional championship but this weekend's sole purpose is to advance," UA head coach Sarah Patterson said. "I think whoever is number one and number two will be extremely happy because they will be advancing to the NCAA Championship."
The Tuscaloosa Regional features No. 2 ranked Alabama, No. 11 Penn State and No. 14 Illinois as the seeded teams, along with No. 22 Auburn, No. 25 Central Michigan and No. 30 Kentucky. Alabama will be in Friday's second practice session, which gets underway at 4 p.m., along with Penn State and Central Michigan. The first practice session, which starts at 1:30 p.m., includes Kentucky, Auburn and Illinois. Both sessions are open to the public.
In addition to being familiar with its surroundings, the Tide is also quite familiar with the field having already faced Auburn and Kentucky twice this year and Penn State to open the season. The Tide faced Illinois and Central Michigan at last year's regional championships in Lexington, Ky. According to Patterson, that familiarity doesn't give the Tide an advantage on Saturday.
"We don't really have an offense and a defense," Patterson said. "We can only come out there and do what we are capable of doing and if we do that we will advance. I think that is really where our focus has been. This team seems to do better when they focus on themselves and not on their surroundings or their opponents."
Each of the six regional competitions around the country has six teams, five individual all-around competitors and four individual event competitors. The top two teams both advance to the NCAA Championships final site in Cleveland, Ohio April 15-17.
In addition to being familiar with the Tide, the other five teams competing in this weekend's regional also have extensive experience with the competitive atmosphere in Coleman Coliseum. Auburn and Kentucky make bi-annual trips to Alabama, including earlier this season.
The Nittany Lions are also frequent Coleman Coliseum visitors, though this will be their first regional championship at the Capstone. Illinois on the other hand is making its fifth regional championship stop in Tuscaloosa while Central Michigan is at its fourth UA-hosted regional.
Alabama comes into the regional on the heels of its seventh Southeastern Conference title two weeks ago. A top-two finish on Saturday gives the Tide the chance to vie for a fifth NCAA Championship.
Regional tickets are available through RollTide.com and the Alabama Ticket Office (205.348.2262) located in the lobby of Coleman Coliseum. The first 1,500 UA students will be admitted free with their ACT card.