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A spirit that is not afraid

Gymnastics looks to continue historic season at NCAA Championships

<p>Auburn gymnasts take a team picture after their first round of practice in Fort Worth, Texas on April 13, 2022.&nbsp;</p>

Auburn gymnasts take a team picture after their first round of practice in Fort Worth, Texas on April 13, 2022. 

Auburn gymnastics is set to take on the NCAA Championship in Fort Worth, Texas, this Thursday, April 14.

Competing in the second session with Florida, Michigan and Missouri, the Tigers have their work cut out for them if they have their sights set on Saturday's national final. Auburn last saw nationals action in 2016,  when it finished in fifth place in the first session. 

The first obstacle will be to get out of the second session. 

With a season-high score of 198.575, Auburn has the skills to post a big number, but it only needs to be good enough to advance to the final. Florida won the Auburn Regional with a score of 198.775. Michigan won its regional with a score of 197.800, and Missouri was the runner-up with a score of 197.425. 

The Tigers finished the regular season ranked fourth in the nation. Florida finished second, Michigan finished third and Missouri finished No. 11. Out of the group, Missouri is statistically the weakest, but it still poses a formidable threat after making it to nationals. 

After the first rotation in the regional championship meet in Auburn, the Tigers were last in the standings headed to arguably their strongest event of the season in the balance beam. In that one rotation, Auburn lifted to second place with a rotation score of 49.625 with the help of freshman Sunisa Lee’s fifth perfect score of the season. 

Auburn then headed to the vault after extending its lead over Kentucky on the floor to decide its fate. Senior leadership solidified the Tiger’s national spot with a score of 197.775, .275 ahead of third place Kentucky. 

Even if Auburn does not advance to the team final on Saturday, several Tiger gymnasts have the potential to win individual titles. 

All-Around

Lee is undoubtedly in the conversation for the individual all-around title. With a season high score of 39.825, Lee finished the regular season ranked second in the country in the all-around. If she performs to her potential and stays calm and steady throughout her routines as well as posts a big vault score, Lee has a real shot at snagging the national individual title. 

Vault

Like a storybook ending, senior Drew Watson earned a career-high 9.975 in her last vault in Neville Arena that solidified the Tigers’ spot in nationals. If she can repeat her performances, she is up there with the best of the best. Junior Cassie Stevens is not to be left out, either. Stevens has also scored a 9.975 on this event in the home meet against Florida, so both gymnasts have national title capabilities. 

Bars

All attention is going to be focused on Lee for this title. She has been perfect twice this season and is the reigning SEC bars champion as well as the No. 1 bar worker in the nation. However, there are some dark horse contenders for this title from the Tiger squad. Senior Derrian Gobourne has scored a 9.975 this season and junior Aria Brusch has scored as high as 9.950. 

Beam

Finishing first in the nation on the beam, Lee is once again in the talks to take this title. She has scored a perfect 10.0 on this event three times this season, one coming from the regional championship meet. However, freshman Sophia Groth has also proved her confidence and capabilities on this event. Having a season high of 9.950, Groth earned All-American honors for this apparatus and will also be in the running for an individual title.

Floor

Gobourne earned an NCAA individual title on the vault as a freshman when she competed in 2019. However, she has shined this season on the floor, where she collected her first perfect ten of her career. Should she continue her excellent execution, Gobourne will be in the running for a title. A gymnast that might come as a surprise in this event is Lee. She has a season-high score of 9.975, so she is also capable of posting a big score. 

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Rotation has proved to be crucial for an overall score so far this season. Auburn will follow the same rotation it did in the SEC Championships, which is beam, floor, vault and bars. If the Tigers can avoid a shaky start and begin the meet with a big score on beam, they will be well on their way to a top placement. 

Before the Auburn regional, head coach Jeff Graba mentioned that the team was aiming to be “average”. This meant that the team was not aiming for perfection, but wanted to be good enough to keep advancing. However, the competition in just the second session will push Auburn to have to put up one of its best scores of the season. 

The Tigers will need to remain steady and calm and be able to trust in their skills in order to put up that kind of score. Although Auburn has not surpassed a 198 score on the road, it is more than capable if everything goes to plan. 

If Auburn places in the top two in the second session, making it to the Final Four, it will compete in the National Championship meet. Their first competition, the second session, will air on ESPN2 at 5 p.m. CST, and the National Championship meet is Saturday at noon CST on ABC. 


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