WHITESBORO, N.Y. (AP) _ Her former coach called it a happy moment in a sad time for Kristin Quackenbush.

The best thing that can happen to a college gymnast happened Wednesday to Quackenbush. The West Virginia star, a native of the Utica, N.Y., area, was honored as the nation's best woman collegiate gymnast, less than two days after her 48-year-old father was killed when a tree limb fell on him.

Kristin couldn't make it to the ceremony to accept the award because she had to attend her father's wake. West Virginia coach Linda Burdett and two assistants accepted it for her.

John B. Quackenbush was killed Monday night while cutting down a tree in Deerfield, N.Y. A professional landscaper, he was standing in the crook of the tree when a lashed-and-weighted limb swung loose and struck him.

``This was a freak thing,'' said Jill Henderson, Kristin's coach of 15 years at Valley Gymnastics in the Utica suburb of New Hartford. ``He would have been so proud of her. John just always believed that if you try your best, then rewards will come to you.''

When the family returned home from the wake they found that Kristin had won the AAI American Award. The news couldn't have been better timed, Kristin said.

``Being able to announce it after we got home from the wake really brought a smile to everyone's face,'' she said.

Kristin dedicated the award to her dad, one of the two people who helped mold her into a gracious champion.

``I feel that my whole life my mother and father taught me everything I know,'' Kristin said.

Kristin, a senior, is the most honored gymnast in West Virginia history. She holds school records in the vault, balance beam, floor exercise and all-round, and has recorded five career 10s. She also is a scholastic All-American with a 3.27 grade-point average.

It wasn't always so easy. To learn how to win, an athlete must first learn how to lose. And Kristin did, with the gentle guidance of her father and mother, Barb.

``This is an integral part of a child's success,'' Henderson said.

Two weeks ago, when Kristin stunned onlookers by failing to qualify for the nationals, John Quackenbush called Henderson to chat.

``He said, `It's a long, long, sad week. But she'll get over it and she'll rise above it.''' Henderson recalled.

Kristin had similar words for her mother Thursday night, Henderson said.

``Kristin put her arm around her mother and said, `You know, mom, there's a reason for everything, and someday we'll know why this happened.'''