Three weeks before the official opening of the season, Auburn’s gymnastics team hit the floor in its annual preview meet. There were no scores and no winners, just a showcase of what to expect from the preseason No. 5 team in the country.
“I think we did a good job for really a glorified practice,” said head coach Jeff Graba.
Last season, the preview meet was held on December 3, but this season, it was held two weeks later.
“Typically, I like to have the meet and then I like to have a week to fix all the things we see,” Graba said. “But we sort of switched it around for this week and I really liked it.”
The Tigers returned 14 gymnasts from the 2022 squad that made the Final Four of the NCAA Championships. Among them were Auburn’s only two individual national champions, Derrian Gobourne and Suni Lee. Both Gobourne, who was the vault champion in 2019, and Lee, who won the beam championship last season, began their final season on the Plains.
Lee dazzled the fans with her performance on the uneven bars, which included a straddle jaeger — something new to her routine.
“(Lee) still has some things to add to her routines,” Graba said. “These are going to be extremely difficult routines…I think she’s got a 10.8 start value on her backup routine on bars.”
Gobourne’s 2023 floor routine, which fittingly began with an excerpt of “God Save the Queen,” electrified the crowd, though Graba made Gobourne forgo her final pass.
“Derrian was going to do a full routine and I actually asked her to stop doing everything,” Graba said.
Three gymnasts competed in the all-around during the meet. Junior Olivia Hollingsworth performed in the all-around for the first time since her freshman season.
“It was definitely different for me,” Hollingsworth said. “I haven’t competed in the all-around since my freshman year…so definitely shaking off the rust.”
Senior Cassie Stevens, who competed in the all-around in each of her first three seasons, will do the same in her fourth season.
"I felt like I had to get the rust off a little bit," Stevens said. "I was like, 'It's been a while since we competed,' but I was pretty happy with everything else."
Freshman Hannah Hagle was Auburn’s third all-around performer.
“I’m really proud of Hannah,” Stevens said. “She’s been struggling in the gym just a little bit recently, just kind of a freshman hump that everyone goes through. But she is definitely a competitor. When it’s time to go, she’s going to be ready."
Hagle was the only freshman to compete for the Tigers, as fellow newcomers Olivia Greaves and Hailey John missed the meet due to injury. Greaves will miss the season, while John is expected to return to the lineup soon.
“Hannah is really the one (freshman) who’s been doing the most gymnastics at this point,” Graba said. “The other two have been dinged up a little bit. Hailey’s coming around. I think she’s going to be available to us at a pretty high level here in the next few weeks.”
Despite being an exhibition and taking place during break, when many students were out of town, the meet attracted thousands of fans who came to cheer on the Tigers.
“Honestly, I was amazed by the amount of people that were here today,” Hollingsworth said. “It just made me feel good that people showed up for us.”
The Tigers will officially begin their season with college gymnastics’ marquee opening-weekend event, facing No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 4 Michigan and No. 10 UCLA in Las Vegas. The opening meet will take place on Jan. 7, 2023 and will begin at 8 p.m. CST.
Do you like this story? The Plainsman doesn't accept money from tuition or student fees, and we don't charge a subscription fee. But you can donate to support The Plainsman.
Matthew is a junior from Huntsville, Alabama majoring in journalism. He started with The Plainsman in fall 2021.