On the way to winning its fourth NCAA Championship, Alabama was a study in contrast. In the locker room, which the coaches and gymnasts had turned into a beach getaway,
complete with sand, umbrellas, floats and beach music, the Tide was laid back and laughing. Out in the arena,
moving ever closer to the title, they were cool, calm and collected.
"We have always done our best when we are loose and
laughing," All-American Kristin Sterner said. "So the coaches
made sure that while we were in the locker room, we didn't
get tense or uptight."
On the night of the Super Six, head coach Sarah
Patterson even went so far as to pull out the dress she wore
to the championships the first time Alabama won at home,
in 1991, a red and white striped, strapless sequined number.
"At first they were surprised, and then they started
laughing pretty hard," Patterson said. "I think they really
enjoyed seeing that, especially since it's pretty far removed
from the kinds of things I wear today."
Sarah and David Patterson, coaching at their 20th NCAA
Championship, knew that staying loose would give their
team an edge in a tight competition. The night of the NCAA
Super Six, none of the six teams had a fall. It would be the
second highest scoring night in championship history.
It didn't seem to matter though, the higher the other
teams turned up the heat, the cooler Alabama gymnasts
For two nights in a row, Alabama started the night on
the floor exercise, which means that for two nights in a row,
Alabama's championship hopes came down to six routines
on the balance beam, often the most daunting event of the
four, especially when the pressure is on.
And on the final night, just to add more drama to the
evening, Alabama was on the balance beam during the last
rotation while second place Georgia was on the floor exercise.
Not only would Alabama have to hit their routines, but
they would also have to hold Georgia off.
Each routine grew in importance as both teams moved
through the rotation. Alabama hit routine after routine until
Sterner came up in the number five spot. A hit routine from
Sterner and the championship belonged to Alabama; a miss
would open the door for Georgia.
Sterner put together a rock solid routine and finished
it off by nailing her landing. The title belonged once again
to the Tide. But the team didn't know that, not for sure, so
for them, there was one more routine to go, this time from
Andreé Pickens, the Tide's all-everything senior.
"I started to cry when Kristin landed her routine," Pickens
said. "Jeana (Rice) came over to me and told me that it was
ok, I could do it, I could do it one more time. That whole
routine was in slow motion. It wasn't rushed and I wasn't
nervous, I was happy and I was confident."
She nailed her routine. And when she threw her arms
in the air after her dismount, the Coleman Coliseum crowd
knew what had happened. They knew the Bama team had
again, as the Tide fight song says, "Writ her name in crimson
flame..." and brought a fourth national title to Tuscaloosa.
They roared their approval, stomping, clapping and screaming,
much like the pandemonium that had broken out on the
floor amongst the Tide athletes, coaches and staff.
It had been a remarkable run. Since counting a fall on the
last event of the SEC Championships, Alabama had gone a
perfect 72 for 72 during their championship march. Pickens,
senior Natalie Barrington, Sterner, sophomore Jeana Rice
and freshmen Alexis Brion and Shannon Hrozek earned 14
All-American honors between them, the most of any team
at the championship. On Saturday, an exhausted Pickens,
who went 12 routines in three days, had enough energy left
to win the NCAA Uneven Bars title to go with the American
Award she'd picked up earlier in the day which denotes the
nation's top senior.
There would be more moments of celebration in the
days and weeks that followed. Alabama received their
championship rings in front of 83,000-plus fans at the halftime
of the Alabama-Southern Mississippi football game.
They were also honored at the Homecoming parade and the
pep rally/bonfire the night before.
But perhaps the best moment came just after the team
received the trophy from Alabama Athletics Director Mal
Moore, when everyone was laughing and hugging. It was
Pickens, who had come back from a torn Achilles that
ended her junior season just days before the 2001 NCAA
Championship, who put it best.
Standing in the middle of her teammates tightly clutching
the Tide's golden prize to her chest she said, "This is
why I came back. This is why I worked so hard for so many
months to get back - to be able to share this moment, this
feeling with these girls and this crowd.
"This," she said again, sweeping her eyes over the mob
scene in Coleman Coliseum, "is what we wanted."