Separately, they were dominant.
Together, they changed the narrative.
Alabama and Georgia gymnastics combine for 16 national championships and 25 Southeastern Conference titles. Almost all of that glory came under former UA coach Sarah Patterson and former UGA coach Suzanne Yoculan Leebern.
Often, the word “legendary” precedes their titles.
“I cannot say enough about what Sarah and Suzanne did for the two programs and for the state of gymnastics, college gymnastics,” Alabama coach Dana Duckworth said. “You talk about two women going out there and raising awareness for women’s athletics–you can’t ask for better examples.”
Patterson controlled the Crimson Tide for 36 years. Yoculan Leebern led the Bulldogs for 26 years during that time span. They were both their respective program’s fifth coach.
Ever since Patterson and Yoculan Leebern stepped down, neither team has claimed another NCAA first-place trophy. Alabama has remained with six, Georgia with 10.
The Crimson Tide has won an SEC championship since Patterson left. That came under Duckworth in 2015.
“Our theme at Alabama is, ‘Where legends are made,’ ” Duckworth said, “and we have a ton of legends.”
She is one of them.
For a while, there was also the Dana-and-Danna show. Danna Durante coached at Georgia for five seasons but was let go after last year’s national championships.
Courtney Kupets Carter is now in charge. Like Duckworth was at Alabama, Kupets Carter is a former Georgia gymnast. Duckworth, whose maiden name is Dobransky, competed for the Crimson Tide from 1990-93. Kupets Carter with the Bulldogs from 2006-09. Both were All-Americans and earned NCAA titles.
The difference: Duckworth has been Alabama’s only coach since Patterson retired in 2014. Kupets Carter is Georgia’s third since Yoculan Leebern retired in 2009.
“They have a lot of changes in their program, and I wish them the very, very best because it’s a great rivalry and I want the SEC to continue to be the best conference in the country,” Duckworth said. “At the same time, for us, we’re focused on Alabama and that’s it.”
Alabama’s next opponent is Georgia. The Crimson Tide opens its home slate against the Bulldogs on Friday.
A familiar foe could be present, too. Yoculan Leebern is a UGA volunteer assistant coach.
“I don’t see it too much as a rivalry as much as the coaches do just because it was a different time with Suzanne and Sarah,” Alabama senior Nickie Guerrero said. “But for me, it’s just cool because of the history. We have the fans and the bigness of the sport just because they started that rivalry and they started making people come to the meets and getting the extreme support that we have now.”
The first-ever sellout in Coleman Coliseum for an Alabama gymnastics meet was Feb. 1, 1997. There were 15,043 fans. The opponent was Georgia.
UA has sold out the arena 10 times since then.
Last season, Alabama ranked second in the nation in women’s college gymnastics’ home attendance. Coleman Coliseum hosted an average of 12,152 people.
“It’s because of them, (Patterson and Yoculan Leebern),” Guerrero said, “and I’m just appreciative of that when I go out there.”