Auburn gymnastics will have its first road meet of the season on Friday when they take on No. 8 Kentucky.
The Tigers went straight into the deep end last weekend, starting their season against No. 1 Florida, where they lost 197.500-195.725. Auburn went into that match at No. 14 but moved up to No. 9 after its season opener.
“It’s definitely a good challenge for a first meet,” said sophomore Cassie Stevens. “We don’t put too much emphasis on who we’re going against or what they’re ranked just because there’s not any defense in gymnastics. There’s not much you can do about it. It’s just better to focus on yourself and your team and what you can control.”
No. 9 Auburn is facing No. 8 Kentucky, and the two have some similarities. Both teams are young with many underclassmen holding routine positions. Auburn had 16 out of 24 routines versus Florida performed by underclassmen.
Similar to Auburn, Kentucky is coming off of a loss from its season opener versus Alabama. Both the Tigers and Wildcats are looking to pick up their first win of the 2021 season.
“[Kentucky] is a younger team this year, but they are really talented,” said head coach Jeff Graba. “They look like they came out of the gate at the same rate as us. They made some mistakes, but they’ve definitely got a high scoring potential.”
The gymnastics season has been shortened to eight games, meaning teams have to work faster to produce upgrades to make the most of their season.
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Auburn is looking at three possible upgrades to the meet this weekend. One of those coming from junior Derrian Gobourne, who is looking to add a double layout to her floor routine.
Senior Drew Watson is also looking to upgrade her floor routine with a double Arabian, if not for this meet, for the next.
There is also a possibility Stevens will upgrade to one-and-a-half on vault. Stevens was an all-around for the Florida meet, ending with a score of 39.225.
“We’ve only got a certain number of meets, so we’ve got to use [upgrades] early,” Graba said. “We’re going to have to upgrade this weekend.”
Sophomore Aria Brusch is looking for an opportunity to compete this weekend, but she is questionable. Brusch had a minor shoulder injury in the meet versus Florida.
She will travel to Kentucky and have a final evaluation Friday to decide if she will compete for the Tigers.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed travel for the Tigers. For some away games, the team travels via plane, but this year the team is opting to take a bus to most away games as a safety precaution.
The meet in Kentucky will require a nine-hour drive, which is hard on any athletes’ body but is extra hard for a gymnast. This long drive also causes Auburn to lose two days of training time that the rival team will not lose.
“I know gymnasts aren’t the biggest athletes, but it is really not good on their bodies,” Graba said. “We do a lot of pounding, and sitting in one spot not doing anything isn’t really ideal. On top of it, you lose two days of training early in the season.”
However, the long travel will have some positives for the Tigers. One precaution Auburn has taken is that the gymnasts practice in sets rather than as a whole team.
This weekend’s bus ride will be one of the first times the entire team is together in person.
The Tigers are looking for their first win of the season in their first away match. No. 9 Auburn will face No. 8 Kentucky at 6 p.m. CST on the SEC Network.
“We’ve been working on trying to do what we do every day in the gym,” Stevens said. “We’re so good in the gym, [Graba] keeps telling us that. So if we can just put there in meets what we put out at practice, I think we’d be ready to go. Just keeping on clean, consistent hit routines and trying to get a few upgrades.”
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