SEC champions!!!

BIRMINGHAM, ALA -- The No. 5 Alabama Gymnastics team won its fifth Southeastern Conference Championship here tonight in Bartow Arena by 5/100ths of a point over 2002 champion Georgia.

"We lost this meet last year by a tenth of a point after counting a 9.6 on the balance beam," head coach Sarah Patterson said. "So I did want to win this one again. It's a great win for us...a lot of fun."

Alabama scored a 197.575 while Georgia went 197.525 in a meet that wasn't decided until Crimson Tide freshman Ashley Miles nailed her floor exercise routines in the sixth spot for the Crimson Tide with a 9.975, which tied her career best.

Miles clinched the title with a 9.975 on floor. (UofA GymTider photo)

"I knew I had to do my best routine," Miles said. "I had no idea what I had to score, but I knew it had to be good. I knew I had to do my best."

Junior Jeana Rice led the Tide with a meet best 39.600 in the all-around. Rice also won the uneven bars and balance beam while Miles won the floor exercise.

"I knew it was going to be really close going into the last rotation," Rice said. "We're good, Georgia's good, so I didn't have any doubt that we would have to be at our best to win."

Rice was named SEC Gymnast of the Year, making it the fourth consecutive year in a row that an Alabama gymnast has won the award. Former Tide All-American Andreé Pickens won the last three years. Rice shared the 2003 honor with Georgia's Chelsea Byrd. LSU's April Burkholder was the league's freshman of the year while Auburn's Jeff Thompson was named coach of the year.

The Tide used a 49.600 score on the floor exercise to seal the meet over the Lady Dogs, who were busy scoring a 49.650 on vault to make the meet the closest league championship since Alabama won over Georgia and LSU in 1995 by .05. In addition to Miles score, Senior Kristin Sterner scored a 9.95 and junior Stephanie Kite scored a career best 9.925.

Alabama started out the night on the vault, where Ashley Miles scored a 9.9 while Dana Pierce posted a 9.875, leading to a 49.325 team score. On the uneven bars Rice scored a 9.925 while freshman Larissa Stewart scored a 9.900 to lead Alabama to a 49.275 team mark.

The Alabama gymnastics team celebrates its SEC championship, Friday night at Birmingham's Bartow Arena. (Photo courtesy of Kent Gidley and the UofA)

On the balance beam sophomore Michelle Reeser led the Tide off with a 9.9. Sterner scored a 9.875 and Rice went 9.95 to pace the Tide to a 49.375.

Alabama has its first break of the season next weekend before returning to action at the NCAA Central Regional Championships April 12 in Coleman Coliseum.

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