"Tonight was like the icing on the cake. This was a wonderful weekend. I'll remember it as one of the highlights of my coaching career. We're going to enjoy it for a little while."
Of the 11 Tide athletes that worked together to earn last night's national championship, no less than six made it to Saturday's individual event competition. "It was exciting to have my teammates on the floor," Pickens said. "For half your competitive team to make it to the individual finals--just to finish my career that way--I'm happy."
Following Pickens' (9.925) first place on bars, UCLA's Doni Thompson (9.912) and Onnie Willis (9.900) placed second and third respectively. Alabama's Natalie Barrington was fourth with a 9.887. Alexis Maday (Iowa), Theresa Kulikowski (Utah), Yvonne Tousek (UCLA) and Jamie Dantzscher (UCLA) all tied for fifth with 9.863s.
"I just went up there and tried to do what I've done all year," Barrington said. "I hit every single bar routine this year, and it was just like yesterday and the night before. Just go up there and do what I could do. I was just really happy I stuck my dismount."
"It's been an amazing year," Barrington continued. "We've overcome a lot. Hard work pays off."
Former Olympian Elise Ray, now competing for Michigan, won the balance beam with a score of 9.250. Bama's Jeana Rice was second with a 9.125. Tied for third with 9.900s were Bama's Kristin Sterner and Kulikowski. Andree' Pickens came in fifth and Tide freshman Shannon Hrozek placed ninth.
Rice was actually the last competitor on beam, and the sophomore turned in a dead-on routine. "I was pretty confident going last," Rice explained. "I had seen how everybody else did. They did a good job, but I knew I could do the job, too, just as well. I tried to go up there with confidence like I do every other day.
"You can't be distracted by all the people that are here. You have to tell yourself that it's the same routine you do in practice every day."
Tide junior Kristin Sterner talked about her third-place performance on beam. "I tried to go up there and stay confident and do what I could. Actually, you can go up there and relax a little bit more. It was one more day to have some fun.
"We finished the season off on a good note. I think it's awesome what we went out there and did after yesterday. Competing three nights in a row, we couldn't have asked for a better ending to a wonderful season."
Another former Olympian, Jamie Dantzscher, tied for first on floor exercise and won the vault outright with a score of 9.9563. "This was my first time competing all-around three nights in a row, so my body was really tired," Dantzscher said. "But I made it through. Winning two events was really cool."
With prelims Thursday, the team championship Friday and individual event finals Saturday night, athletes like Dantzscher and Bama's Pickens, Sterner and Rice essentially went all-around three nights in a row. "I think the athletes--especially the ones that were competing three days in a row--I think they were all digging very deep within themselves," Patterson said. "Personally, I was more anxious tonight than I was last night. We don't train like this three days in a row. I just wanted all the athletes to walk out of here healthy and doing fine.
"These are extraordinary athletes. The level of gymnastics was so high; I congratulate all of them."
On vault in second place behind Dantzscher was Georgia's Marlene Stephens with a 9.9500. Pickens was third at 9.9250. Michigan's Elise Ray (9.8625) and Nebraska's A.J. Lamb (9.8500) were fourth and fifth respectively.
Tied for first-place with Dantzscher on floor exercise, LSU's Nicole Arnstad fulfilled a personal dream. "This is my senior year, and my goal all four years at LSU has been to go to nationals and win the floor," she said. "Tonight was a dream come true. It was fun. I ended my career with the best floor routine of my life."
Utah's Shannon Bowles placed third with a 9.925, and Bama's Alexis Brion tied for fourth place with Georgia's Talya Vexler. Both scored a 9.912. Pickens tied for sixth and Sterner tied for eleventh.
Pickens performed first on both the balance beam and the floor exercise, a notoriously difficult position to start for scoring purposes. In fact, when she stepped up to the beam hers was the first performance of the entire evening session. "Starting the meet off on beam was different for me," Pickens acknowledged. "I'm usually last in competition. I had butterflies in my stomach. I was very nervous. But once I got going and I had my teammates out on the floor with me, things started to flow."
Pickens finishes her college career as one of the most decorated athletes in Alabama gymnastics history. "After last year's injury, it was great to be on the floor my senior year," she said. "To be a national champion with these other wonderful ladies is something I will cherish forever. Tonight was tough. These three days were ‘Please Lord, let me stay safe.' But I had fun.
"It was my last meet. That's all I could think after I landed my last routine. ‘I'm actually done.' It's been four great years."