Just minutes after senior Brooke Pancake sunk her four-foot putt that won the Alabama women’s golf team a national championship, some of the golfers could be overheard talking about how excited they were to get rings presented to them at an upcoming football game. It’s become customary for “other” teams to be honored in Bryant-Denny Stadium after taking home their sports’ ultimate prize.
But before the 2011-2012 season, it was only gymnastics that stepped in front of 101,000 fans to receive such in award. This year, however, the halftime schedule might get pretty full.
The Tide won national championships in gymnastics and women’s golf and is one win away from having another in softball. The women’s sports at Alabama have ruled the spring, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that this has been the most successful year for women’s sports in the school’s history.
Even beyond that, the women’s soccer team made the NCAA championships for the second time in school history, and women’s tennis hosted the first and second rounds of the NCAAs for the first time.
“I don’t think there’s any question of that,” Don Kausler of al.com said, when asked if 2011-2012 was the best it’s ever been for women’s athletics. “It’s unprecedented success.”
“It’s one of the finest, if not the finest years,” Alabama gymnastics head coach Sarah Patterson said, whose team won its sixth national championship and second in as many years. “To see how far we have come over these last 35 years, it’s amazing.”
Kausler points to athletic director Mal Moore as the reason for the success of women’s sports. Not only has Moore hired many of the coaches that are succeeding at Alabama today, he has supplied those coaches with world-class facilities with which to work.
“Coaches are coming in. They’re asking for better facilities, and they’re getting it,” Kausler said. “And once they have it, it becomes a recruiting chip, and they’re bringing in better athletes.”
The Jerry Pate Golf Center, which both the men and women’s golf team uses as a practice facility, was renovated in August of 2010. Foster Auditorium was renovated and upgraded and now hosts the volleyball and women’s basketball teams. Alabama also opened a state-of-the-art indoor tennis facility this season, which hosts both the men and women’s teams.
“[Moore] has helped build the facilities throughout the athletic department, raise the funds, along with hiring successful coaches,” Patterson said.
There is also a trickle down effect from the one sport that runs the University of Alabama: football.
“The success of our football program, that’s what enables all of our sports to have the kind of opportunities to compete at the highest level,” Patterson said. “I’ve been to 30 NCAA championships in a row, and I know that without our football team, those opportunities would not be possible.”
The football program has an effect on the various women’s programs in many ways. Before the gymnastics team left for Duluth, Ga., where it eventually won the national championship, Patterson had Alabama football head coach Nick Saban address her team.
Subsequently, after winning the championship, Patterson was invited to speak to the softball team and women’s golf team, even baking them some of her signature “championship cookies.”
“It’s amazing to win a championship. I can’t tell you how hard it is,” Patterson said. “And then to see another team be successful and to be the second women’s team to win a championship, I couldn’t be more proud.”
And when football is winning, it only motivates the other sports on campus to do so. Recruits are often brought to football games and national championship celebrations to get a feel for the passion and support Alabama athletics has.
“It rubs off,” Kausler said.
Softball has a chance to become the third women’s sport to win a championship tomorrow night when it squares off with Oklahoma for game three of the Women’s College World Series. Patterson, whose daughter is a UA softball player, said she remembers when the team played at a local park in its early days.
And seeing softball cap off the most successful year in women’s sports history would mean everything to Patterson, who has seen this side of sports grow since she arrived almost 35 years ago.
“If I could give up one of my six [championships] so that they could have one, I would do it in a heartbeat,” Patterson said. “Building rich tradition and winning programs, that’s what we represent at the University of Alabama.”