"I told our ladies to go out and have fun tonight," Alabama head coach Sarah Patterson said. "I told them, 'Let's make a great team beat us tonight,' and a great team (UCLA) did. Tonight, UCLA was the most talented team. I wanted our team to put themselves in a position to win tonight and I couldn't have asked for a better job out of us."
Alabama used six freshmen in its lineup to come up with a 197.275, finishing ahead of third place Georgia, 197.150 and fourth place Nebraska, 197.125. Michigan and Utah finished fifth and sixth on the night with a 196.05 and 195.3 respectively.
Tonight marks Alabama's fifth runner-up finish and ninth in the top-2. Alabama has been the Southeastern Conference's top finish at the national championships a league best 10 times.
Alabama had 13 of its 14 athletes compete tonight, including junior Jeana Rice who led the Tide with a 39.55.
With Georgia already finished and Nebraska throwing some strong vault scores, Alabama finished the night in a dog fight for second, going on the balance beam. Sophomore Michelle Reeser got the event off to a good start with a 9.85. Rice and senior Kristin Sterner posted back-to-back 9.9s to finish off the rotation and the Dogs and Huskers.
Alabama puts self in position for the silver trophy by tying its season best on the uneven bars, going 49.425 behind three 9.9 scores, a 9.875 and two 9.85s. It was more than three tenths of a point better than yesterday's prelim score of 49.050 and almost half a point better than the Tide's regional score.
Alabama got the night off to a rollicking start with a 49.375 on the floor exercise punctuated by Miles' 9.95 exclamation point in the anchor spot. The Tide also got a 9.875 from Rice and 9.85s from Sterner and junior Stephanie Kite.
On the vault, the Tide went 49.225, beginning the rotation with a 9.9 from Rice and finishing off with a 9.9 from Miles.
The championships conclude Saturday night (April 26) when the individual event finals will be contested. The participants for individual event finals come from both Thursday afternoon sessions, with the top four individuals (and ties) advancing to Saturday night. Alabama has five gymnasts going eight routines.
Junior Jeana Rice will compete on the vault, uneven bars and balance beam. Freshman Ashley Miles will compete on the vault and floor exercise while sophomore Alexis Brion will compete in her second consecutive vault final. Senior Kristin Sterner will join Rice on the uneven bars while freshman Mari Bayer joins Rice on the uneven bars.
All five women earn All-American honors on the events on which they compete Saturday. In addition, Rice earned All-American honors in the all-around and second team honors on the floor exercise, giving her 13 first and second team honors for her career.
In addition to being first team on the balance beam, Sterner was second team All-American in the All-Around, giving her 11 career honors. Bayer was also second team All-American on the balance beam. Sophomore Shannon Hrozek, first team last season, was second team on the balance beam this year.
Junior Stephanie Kite joined Rice as second team All-American on the floor exercise.
All-American honors are determined on Thursday with the top four finishers (and ties) on each event and the all-around earning first team honors. Second team is determined by the next four finishers (and ties)--up to eight athletes. If there are, for example, six first-team All-Americans on a particular event from one session because of ties, the second team list will be limited to the next two athletes (and ties). If there are eight first-team All-Americans in one session, there is no second team for that session.