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
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
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
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,
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 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
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.