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Alabama Takes Gymnastics Title From Rival Georgia

April 27, 1996

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) _ Alabama coach Sarah Patterson was humble after Georgia’s collapse helped the Crimson Tide to it’s third NCAA women’s gymnastics title.

Considering these teams don’t get along, there probably wasn’t any better way to win it.

Alabama, which last won the national championship in 1991, set NCAA championship records in the floor exercise and vault Friday night to take the meet away from arch-rival Georgia and its controversial coach, Suzanne Yoculan.

``Coming into the season, our slogan was, `Enjoy the ride,‴ said Patterson, who improved her record to 240-49-3. ``Tonight, we’re enjoying our destiny.″

With six teams rotating among four events, it’s often difficult to keep track of who’s winning these NCAA championships. On this night, however, with a vocal crowd of 10,955 at Alabama’s Coleman Coliseum, it was obvious where the meet turned.

Georgia was on its final event _ uneven bars _ on the fifth rotation. The Crimson Tide, sitting out the fifth turn, had only the vault remaining on the sixth and final rotation. Georgia led Alabama by five-hundredths of a point, with UCLA a scant five-hundredths behind the Tide.

The Gym Dawgs, who have three national titles under Yoculan, met disaster on the bars. The usually reliable Leslie Angeles fell twice, and Jenni Beathard hit the mat once. Leah Brown saw a nice routine ruined when she staggered on her dismount. Georgia managed only a 49.125, leaving the door open for Alabama and UCLA.

Alabama didn’t blink. Kim Kelly and Danielle McAdams nailed perfect 10s on the vault to spring past Georgia, and UCLA’s 49.275 on the floor was good enough for second place.

Alabama’s Meredith Willard, the all-around champion, scored 9.95 on the vault and floor. Kelly also had a 10 on the floor. Her routine was set to the Crimson Tide fight song and ``Sweet Home Alabama,″ underscoring the Tide’s home advantage.

``This is absolutely incredible,″ said McAdams, who scored her first perfect 10.

The Tide won with a score of 198.025, .55 ahead of UCLA and 1.25 ahead of Georgia and Utah, which tied for third. Oregon State was fifth with 196.525, and Michigan was sixth with 196.375.

``In the locker room before the last event ... I looked at them and said, `We can do this, ladies,‴ Patterson said. ``At that moment, I saw an incredible spirit in this team. We knew what it took to win.″

Yoculan, whose brash confidence aggravates competitors, said Georgia didn’t choke.

``We’re not going to go back to Athens and try to figure out what happened, because nothing happened,″ Yoculan said. ``We’re a great team. They were digging deep, and they ran out of mental strength. They just ran out of it.″

Georgia’s Lori Strong, the two-time Canadian Olympian who saw her dream of an NCAA all-around title slip away after a fall on the bars Thursday night, was at a loss to explain what happened in the team finals.

``Leslie had a fluke fall. She just slipped off the bar,″ said Strong, whose gymnastics career is over at 23. ``She hit the floor and she had this odd look in her eyes, like, `What happened?′ She was clueless. You either hit the bars like you wouldn’t believe, or you miss them.″

The top eight qualifiers from Thursday’s all-around compete Saturday night for the individual event titles.

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