By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
DULUTH, Ga. –
Laura Owens is the gymnastics writer for the Tuscaloosa News who has covered the Crimson Tide program this season. She sat down with the SEC Digital Network to preview the upcoming Southeastern Conference Championships, which take place Saturday at The Arena at Gwinnett Center.
SEC Digital Network: Having covered Alabama all season, what will the Crimson Tide need to do well in order to win this meet?
“All season long, the Alabama gymnasts have talked about, in each meet, they stay within themselves. They have made it a point in each meet not to watch the other team's routines, and that's seemed to work very well for them. They don't psyche themselves out, and they don't pay attention to the scores. They focus solely on what they need to do, and they've done what they need to do very well so far this season. Gymnastically, Alabama needs to continue paying attention to all the little details of the meet. The team talks about how every handstand, wobble and missed landing add up to affect their score. In order to do well this weekend, they need to stay consistent with what they've been doing all season. Alabama rarely has to count a fall, so as long as the team stays focused on themselves and keeps paying attention to the little details throughout the meet, they have a good chance of winning this meet. This strategy was how they went undefeated in the SEC regular season, after all.”
SEC Digital Network: How do you break down the field? What teams do you think have a legitimate chance at winning the SEC Championship?
“One thing to remember about this conference is that every team is ranked in the top 25. This is arguably the toughest field in the nation. On any given night, one too many falls from any team can give another one the edge. The top three teams in the SEC, Florida, Alabama and Georgia, have more consistently proved their performance levels don't waver, so I'm expecting one of those three teams to win it. Arkansas lingers around in the running too. But again, the title is up for any team that goes out there, has a perfect night and takes advantage of the teams that don't.”
SEC Digital Network: Who are some of the key athletes that fans should keep an eye out to step up big this weekend?
“Arkansas senior Jaime Pisani is No. 1 in the nation in the all-around. Close behind her is fellow Razorback, sophomore Katherine Grable at No. 4. Then Florida's sophomore Alaina Johnson is fifth in the all-around. These three athletes have been able to prove they consistently compete at a high level. Alabama has a pair of seniors in Ashley Priess and Geralen Stack-Eaton that the team relies on heavily. For Georgia, senior Kat Ding is the team's highest ranked in vault and uneven bars. For all these high-achieving seniors, they'll want to make an impact and leave their marks. Perhaps they can finish off their college careers as an individual SEC champion in addition to their teams being SEC Champions.”
SEC Digital Network: Just how tough is the SEC Championship meet and how well do you feel that will prepare teams for NCAA Regional and Championship competition?
“Knowing that all seven teams are ranked in the top 25, it's clear that this competition is top-notch. This conference is full of very talented gymnasts, and anywhere from 2-5 teams could easily end up in the NCAA Super Six. It's a very tough conference, which prepares each team in it very well for the NCAA Regional and Championship competition. This year in particular, because the SEC and NCAA Championships are in the same arena, it'll give the SEC teams a leg-up in the NCAA Championship.”
SEC Digital Network: You saw Florida, the nation's top ranked team compete earlier this season in Tuscaloosa. What impressed you about the Gators?
“I saw Florida compete in Tuscaloosa at an interesting time because it was the week after the team scored the 197.775, which, at the time, was the nation's highest score. Obviously after such a performance like that the week before, they had a bit of a comedown in Tuscaloosa. However, the team's energy throughout the meet was what impressed me most. Before the final rotation, the score margin was too wide to bridge, but their last event of the night was their highest. They showed the fight they have in them, which, added to the talent they already have, makes for a very dangerous opponent.”
SEC Digital Network: For fans who maybe don't ordinarily come to gymnastics meet, what makes gymnastics such a fun event to attend and why is SEC gymnastics so exciting?
“Gymnastics is a sport based purely around performance. Gymnasts are in this sport to perform for the judges and audience that comes to watch them. The things these ladies can do week in and week out are amazing. They flip, tumble, balance on a four-inch wide beam and vault themselves into the air. Appreciating pure talent is what makes gymnastics such a fun sport to watch. SEC gymnastics in particular is fun to watch because an audience member can watch these ladies perform, assured that it is among the top competition to watch in the nation.”