Much-improved Tide falls just short

ATHENS, GA - What a difference a week makes. <br><br>Same arena, same Alabama Gymnastics team, but the outcome here tonight in Stegeman Coliseum was much more to Crimson Tide head coach Sarah Patterson's liking.

Last weekend at the season opening Super Six Challenge, the Tide struggled on the balance beam, posting a team mark of 48.200. This week, with largely the same lineup, Alabama scored more than a full point better on that one apparatus, posting a 49.550 punctuated by a 10.0 from junior Jeana Rice in the anchor spot.

"We worked very hard this week," head coach Sarah Patterson. "We did a lot of new things this week and debuted a lot of new skills. From where we were last weekend to where we are tonight, I'm very pleased with this young, young team."

The Tide was led the balance beam by Rice's 10, the first of her career, and sophomore Michelle Reeser, senior Kristin Sterner and freshman Mari Bayer's trio of 9.875s.

"I was just happy to have my routine," Rice said. "I thought about it one step at a time, one skill at a time. I didn't really have any pressure on me since we already had five scores."

The Tide's standout beam performance took Alabama right to the brink of upending the homestanding Dogs, but in the end Georgia held out by the slimmest of margins 197.075-197.050. The meet was covered by Fox Sports Net and will air Jan. 23 at 2:30 p.m. Fans should check their local listings for the time and channel in their area.

Georgia junior Chelsa Byrd won the all-around with a 39.650 while Rice and Sterner took second and third with a 39.625 and 39.225 respectively

In the land of the Dogs, Sterner proved that you can teach an old gymnasts new tricks. The lone senior on the Tide's roster, Sterner debuted not just a new vault here tonight, but a completely new style of vault, one that she started learning just five short weeks ago. She took the vault out for spin in Athens and came away with a 9.850. The vault also put Sterner back in the all-around, where she scored a 39.225.

"That vault has only been in the making about two months," Patterson said of Sterner's new look "I think it exemplifies this team, doing what ever it takes to make us competitive. Most athletes could not make that kind of transition that quickly. It says volumes about Kristin's determination and will to succeed and I'm very proud of her for that. I think as a team, our improvement on vault was tremendous."

Alabama came out of the gate with a 49.025 on the uneven bars led by All-American Jeana Rice's 9.875. Sophomore Shannon Hrozek and freshman Dana Pierce both scored 9.850 on the night. Georgia had two falls on the uneven bars, forcing them to count one in their final tally of 48.900.

Junior Jeana Rice, the all-around champion a week ago at the Super Six Challenge, and freshman Ashley Miles, who won the vault here a week ago, both scored a 9.875 on the vault to lead Alabama to a 49.175 team score. The Lady Dogs opened up the night on the vault, scoring a 49.375.

With her second 9.950 of the season (and in fact her career) on the floor exercise, freshman Ashely Miles led the Tide to a 49.300 on the floor exercise. Rice chipped in a 9.875 and Sterner added a 9.850 to the Tide total.

Alabama will remain on the road next weekend, doing double duty. On Friday the Tide will be in Fayetteville, Ark. taking on first-year program Arkansas. Then on Sunday, Alabama will be in Lincoln, Neb. to face 2003 NCAA Championship host Nebraska.

Alabama       Vault   Bars    Beam    Floor  All-Around

M. Bayer      9.800    --     9.875   9.800     --
S. Hrozek     9.725   9.850   9.750    --       --
S. Kite       9.775    --      --     9.775     --
A. Miles      9.875   9.800    --     9.950     --
D. Pierce      --     9.850   9.925    --       --
M. Reeser      --     8.975   9.875   9.825     --
J. Rice       9.875   9.875  10.000   9.875   39.625            
K. Sterner    9.850   9.650   9.875   9.850   39.225

UA Totals    49.175  49.025  49.550  49.300  197.050      

Georgia       Vault   Bars    Beam    Floor  All-Around

J. Ackerman   9.825   9.800    --     9.200     --
C. Bair        --     9.350   9.725    --       --
C. Byrd       9.950   9.900   9.925   9.875   39.650
M. Emmons     9.850    --     9.875   9.875     --
M. Fjordholm   --      --      --     9.725     --
C. Fritzinger 9.875   9.300  10.000   9.900   39.075
A. Miller     9.775    --      --      --       --
K. Rowe       9.875   9.950   9.825    --       --
S. Sapunar     --      --     9.875   9.925     --

GA Totals    49.375  48.900  49.500  49.300  197.075

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