By (Ben Stansell)

You can certainly say that Alabama has Georgia on its mind.

When Alabama gymnastics squares off against Georgia in its first home meet of the season on Friday, it will be the third time that an Alabama team has faced Georgia in the past week. Although they will not be competing for a national championship, the meet will have a similar level of intensity given the passionate and rich history between the two storied programs.

The roots of the Alabama-Georgia gymnastics rivalry can be traced back to the early 1980s, when each program’s coach was transforming their team into a national powerhouse. After taking the reins in 1979, Sarah Patterson led the Crimson Tide to prominence, winning six national titles over her celebrated 36-year career. For the Dawgs, Suzanne Yoculan Leebern built the team into a perennial contender, claiming 10 national championships during her 26-year tenure.

As Alabama and Georgia ascended to the top of college gymnastics, the rivalry between the programs grew with intensity and importance. Patterson and Yoculan Leebern created a rivalry so fierce and compelling that the SEC Network made it the subject of a 2014 documentary titled “Sarah and Suzanne.”

“There’s so much history and what a great rivalry it is,” said Dana Duckworth, Alabama’s current head coach. “I cannot say enough about what Sarah and Suzanne did for the two programs, and for the state of college gymnastics. The way that they battled back and forth to grow their programs and become relevant, that’s what this is about.”

Like any great rivalry, Alabama-Georgia has continued to thrive through coaching changes and successive generations of gymnasts.

Duckworth, who competed against Georgia as an Alabama gymnast, understands the gravity of the rivalry, but does not want her team getting lost in the emotions that come with facing an archrival.

“This rivalry is really about two amazing teams going and battling it out, but for us all we can control is what we do and that’s what our focus will be: what can we do?” Duckworth said. “Our Goliath is Alabama gymnastics. Its nobody else, but you of course will use the energy that it is Georgia and that heightened level of excitement behind you, but you don’t need to get too revved up.”

Against Georgia, Alabama will be looking to bounce back from an opening meet loss at Michigan last Friday. The Crimson Tide fell to the Wolverines 196.200-195.675, despite senior Kiana Winston claiming victory on the uneven bars and balance beam, as well as senior Nickie Guerrero winning vault.

Alabama’s team learned valuable lessons from the loss, according to Guerrero, but they are not dwelling on it.

“It wasn’t a horrible meet, just a lot of lessons were learned,” Guerrero said. “Coming back and talking to everybody and having the seniors remind people that it’s just gymnastics. We’re excited to get out there and show everybody that we are so much more than what we did at Michigan.”

Friday’s matchup against the Dawgs will be the first time Alabama’s freshmen will get to compete in Coleman Coliseum, which is one of the top venues in college gymnastics. To say the freshmen are amped to be competing in front of a home crowd at Coleman would be an understatement.

“Well, you know we come and we watch the meets as high school students,” freshman Lexi Graber said. “So, I’m really excited to just get out on that ‘A’ and just have so much fun with this team and show everybody what we’ve been training for and just this is our moment and I’m excited to capture it.”

Alabama’s rivalry against Georgia will resume at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, but opening meet festivities, including player introductions, will begin closer to 7. There will be free face painting on the concourse, a 1,000 t-shirt giveaway and a 500 pop socket giveaway as well.

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Source:: The Crimson White Sports