Beam me up; Tide moves on to Super Six

TUSCALOOSA, Ala -- The first-day goal of the twelve gymnastics teams here to participate in the 2002 NCAA Championship Meet can be summed up in one word: advance. Six of the twelve did, and they'll face off in Friday's championship round at Coleman Coliseum. Start time is 7:00 p.m. <br><br>Count top-seeded host team Alabama among that field.

The Crimson Tide, competing without injured senior Raegan Tomasek, posted a qualifying score of 197.3, tops on day one.

Tomasek jammed both ankles during warm-ups and her Friday participation will be a meet-time decision.

Andree' Pickens and Coach Sarah Patterson meet with reporters after Thursday's session. Pickens finished second in the All-Around competition, only .050 behind the winner.

"It never gets old," said Patterson of her team's 19th Super Six slot in 20 tries. "Our goal every year is to be on the floor, the last night of the season, with a chance to win a national championship."

Should Bama come out on top, it would mark the school's fourth national championship. Two of those came in the only two times UA has hosted the event, 1991 and 1996. The Tide won its first title in 1988 at Utah.

Historically, the balance beam has not been an Alabama strength.

So much for history.

The Tide, ranked second nationally in the polls, posted a 49.55 on the beam--its best event score of the day. Kristin Sterner and Andree' Pickens each earned 9.95's and Jeana Rice had a 9.925.

"We practice every day in the gym that same way," said Sterner. "You just keep that in your mind and concentrate on what you have to do."

"It's a tough position to end on, especially under that kind of pressure," said Patterson. "We just get that confidence going. It doesn't matter where we draw (Friday), I think they have to be confident on that event."

UA opened on floor, an event it normally closes with at home, and posted a 49.45, boosted by a pair of 9.925's. Andree' Pickens and Alexis Brion each achieved that mark, and Kristin Sterner had a 9.9.

The Tide was not as fortunate on the vault, though Pickens and Brion each scored 9.9's. Alabama's team score was 49.275, and Tomasek's absence was felt.

The bars were even less kind to the hosts. Bama could manage only a 49.025, led by Pickens and Natalie Barrington's 9.85's.

UCLA's Jamie Dantzscher, who had seven consecutive 10's on floor earlier in the season, scored a 9.95 on that event en route to the NCAA All-Around title. The 2000 U.S. Olympian totalled 39.675 in the four events. Pickens took second with a 39.625. Utah's Theresa Kulikowski placed third with a 39.6. The Tide's Jeana Rice came in sixth in the All-Around.

Patterson celebrates with Kristin Sterner, following the junior's 9.90 floor exercise routine.

"My main focus is our team first when we're at NCAA's," said Dantzscher of her title. "It was definitely in the back of my mind, mainly because reporters kept reminding me it could happen."

"It was a tough all-around competition, and Jamie did her best," said UCLA head coach Valorie Kondos Field. The remainder of the individual titles will be decided Saturday night.

The Bruins are ranked first in the polls and have won back-to-back NCAA titles.

"I won an individual (event) my freshman year on beam," said Pickens, a senior. "I'm looking for that team title. My whole focus here year is: I want to see my team on top. I want them to experience it before I leave, and just have that atmosphere.

"I just wanted to go out and have a good, steady performance and set us good for tomorrow."

Count Patterson among those who are glad the pressure of qualifying for Friday is off. She said Friday would "be much more fun for the athletes. I think if you're an athlete or a coach, it is nerve-wracking... knowing that you have to make it to (Friday)."

Stanford finished third in the evening session with a 196.05, clinching the school's first ever Super Six appearance.

Earlier in the day, Utah (196.775), Georgia (196.65) and Nebraska (196.575) qualified for Friday's finals. The top three teams in each session move on the Super Six under the NCAA's format. Friday's championship round draw will see Bama open on vault and close on the floor, the rotation it normally would follow in a home meet.

Failing to advance were Michigan, LSU, Florida, Arizona, Minnesota and Oregon State.

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