Alabama Gymnastics Wins Third National Title



For the Alabama Gymnastics team, two long years of planning, training and dedication had come down to the next 24 hours. Their motto for the season had been "Enjoy the Journey," and they had with great success. Now, in April 1996, Alabama was on the verge of competing for the national championship on its home floor. Sarah and David Patterson gathered their team and told them, "We've enjoyed the journey, now it's time to enjoy our destination."

Alabama started its drive for its third NCAA Championship on the same two events on which it had counted falls on the first night of team competition. On the uneven bars, sophomore Danielle McAdams produced a 9.875, a mark echoed by freshman Gwen Spidle who was followed by junior Meredith Willard, who posted a 9.9. In the fourth position senior Kim Kelly suffered a fall, putting the Tide's final two performers in clutch positions. Junior Stephanie Woods responded with a 9.95. Senior Marna Neubauer came up in the final position. The senior had been battling a sore shoulder for the latter half of the season but came up big for the Tide, swinging to a 9.875. Alabama produced a 49.475, the second-best total in school history.

Alabama then moved to the balance beam. Willard took to the beam in her customary first spot and for the first time all season, on any event, she fell. Sarah Patterson gathered the team together and told them, "Meredith has been our rock all season long. Now we'll be there for her."

Sophomore Shay Murphy was next up and responded with a solid 9.8. Senior Kim Bonaventura posted a 9.825 and Kelly scored 9.9. McAdams came up in the fifth position. Midway through her routine, she wobbled on a landing, staying on the beam seemingly through sheer force of will. She steadied herself and finished the routine to thunderous applause and a 9.725 score. Woods finished things off for the Tide with a 9.9. The Tide posted a 49.150.

Despite a strong first half, Alabama still trailed UCLA, a squad making a push for the top, by .075 with two rotations left.

The Tide moved to the floor exercise, and it was there that the Tide and the crowd of 10,000-plus fans caught fire. Neubauer scored a 9.85 followed by Booth's 9.875. Then Kelly brought her floor routine out, the routine she had learned during the season, and introduced only four meets before. To the strains of "Yea Alabama" and "Sweet Home Alabama" the Pennsylvania native captured her audience and judges, producing a perfect 10.0 performance and raising the decibel level in Coleman Coliseum to neardeafening heights.

Willard carried the banner of enthusiasm throughout her performance, producing a 9.95. McAdams came up in the final spot and capped Alabama's performance with a careerhigh 9.95.

When the counting was done, Alabama had produced a NCAA Floor Exercise record 49.625. The Bruins were tenacious though, matching the Tide's record floor effort with an NCAA record of their own on the balance beam (49.50). Going into the last rotation, perennial favorites Georgia and Utah were already out of the championship picture - barring a complete meltdown by both the Crimson Tide and UCLA. It came down to two teams and one last rotation.

Alabama headed to the vault, just .05 ahead of floor exercise bound UCLA.

What happened during the last rotation is the stuff of legend. Alabama ran off a blistering set of vaults in which the Tide scored nothing less than a 9.9 and posted two perfect, golden 10.0s.

Booth got Alabama off to a 9.925 start. Bonaventura and Neubauer chimed in with back-to-back 9.9 scores. McAdams came up in the fourth spot and put the ultimate exclamation point on what had already been a career night. She flew down the runway, hit the springboard, then the vault, landed on the mat and did not move. Feet planted, arms thrown back and head held high, McAdams scored her first perfect 10.0 and the fans roared, clapped and screamed their approval. Kelly responded with a 10.0 of her own, the sixth perfect vault of her career and one that raised the roof right off the coliseum. Willard finished the Tide's evening with a 9.95.

The Tide's vault total, 49.775, set yet another NCAA record. UCLA mustered a 49.275 on the floor. The title was Alabama's.

Alabama totaled a 198.025, a new NCAA `Super Six' record, to win its third NCAA title, second in front of the home crowd. UCLA was second with a 197.475, a score that would have won all but one other NCAA Championship. Utah and Georgia tied for third with a 196.775. Oregon State was fifth with a 196.525, while Michigan finished sixth with a 196.375. It marked the first time in NCAA history that all six members of the "Super Six" scored 196 or better. Willard started the Tide's winning ways on the first night of competition, earning Alabama's fourth NCAA All-Around title.

The Tide would roll to two more titles during Saturday night's individual competition. Woods posted a 9.975 to win the NCAA Uneven Bars title. And Kelly, in the last meet of her storied career, inked the perfect final chapter. She posted yet another perfect 10.0 floor routine to win that title.