April 16, 2011
CLEVELAND - The Alabama gymnastics team won its fifth NCAA Championship here in Cleveland, Ohio in a down-to-the-wire, edge-of-your-seat competition that saw the Crimson Tide edge defending champion UCLA, 197-650-197.375.
"I cannot say enough about the unity that this team has had," UA head coach Sarah Patterson said. "`Enjoy the Ride' was their slogan for this season and I think we are enjoying the ride right now."
Alabama was just .025 ahead of the Bruins heading into the final rotation with the Tide headed to the floor exercise and UCLA going to the beam. Alabama finished off with 49.45 led by senior Kayla Hoffman's meet-best 9.95 while the Bruins scored a 49.200.
This marks coaches Sarah and David Patterson's fifth NCAA Championship, with the others coming in 2002, 1996, 1991 and 1988. Alabama also won its seventh Southeastern Conference Championship and 26th NCAA Regional title earlier this season, giving the Tide its first postseason sweep since the 1988 season.
"For my husband David and I, this is our 29th consecutive trip to the NCAA Championships," Patterson said. "I want you to know that the competition has never been any tighter or any tougher. There were a lot of great teams on the floor tonight and I think the biggest difference was that people were not perfect, but we left nothing out on the floor."
The championship's final rotation was the stuff legends are made of. With Alabama leading by slimmest possible margin, both teams started the rotation with scores of 9.85. UCLA tied the meet when its second gymnast scored a 9.825 while Alabama scored a 9.8. The Bruins moved ahead by .025 after their third gymnast scored a 9.875 and Alabama answered with a 9.850.
From there though, it was all Alabama. Freshman Diandra Milliner scored a 9.875 to take the lead back and junior Geralen Stack-Eaton and senior Kayla Hoffman closed out the meet and the Bruins by scoring the two highest floor scores of the day, 9.925 and 9.95 respectively.
The Tide set itself up for the title in the fourth rotation when it scored a 49.350 on the balance beam, the second highest total of the weekend, led by freshman Kim Jacob's career-high 9.950, which was also the highest beam score of the weekend.
It was after Jacob's routine that the tension mounted for the Tide when Hoffman fell from the beam. Freshman Sarah DeMeo, up next, came through in the clutch though with a 9.825 while Stack-Eaton finished things off with a 9.875.
"The moment that I think made the difference was after Kayla made the mistake on the balance beam," Patterson said. "She came off the podium and freshman Sarah DeMeo was standing there and Geralen was next to her, Kayla just smiled and told Sarah, `I know we've got this.'"
Alabama got its championship run started with a blistering 49.575 on the vault, the highest score of the night on any event, led by matching 9.95s from Hoffman and freshman Diandra Milliner, which tied for the highest vault score on the day. The Tide followed that with a solid 49.275 on the uneven bars led by Hoffman's 9.925 in the anchor spot.
By the midway point of the meet, Alabama and UCLA were tied and the pressure and excitement were building throughout the building, except, perhaps in Alabama's corral and lockerroom.
The chemistry of this team is probably the best of any team I have been on," Stack-Eaton said. "We just had fun in the locker room - we danced, we played charades and Catch Phrase. Even in our corrals we stayed loose and within ourselves and didn't look at any other teams because we didn't want to get distracted."
Stack-Eaton's 39.475 all-around score was the second highest of the night while Jacob, who was competing in the all-around for the second time in as many days and just the fourth time all season, was third with a career-best 39.425.
The Tide closed out its season by winning its last nine meets and posting eight 197-plus scores over the last nine meets. The Tide's winning score from today was its second highest of the season.
Alabama finishes out the season on Sunday with individual event finals starting at 1 p.m. EDT when six UA gymnasts will compete on 12 events.