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Gymnastics soars to victory against Arkansas in home opener

Mclaughlin beam routine at Neville Arena on January 20th 2023
Mclaughlin beam routine at Neville Arena on January 20th 2023

 Gymnastics returned to Neville Arena Friday night when the Tigers faced the Razorbacks. In front of a packed home crowd, No. 7 Auburn was able to beat No. 25 Arkansas 197.500-196.675. 

Sophomore Suni Lee won all but one individual event, which lead her to win the all around with a score of 39.750. On the vault, she posted a career high score of 9.950. She also debuted a new floor routine, choreographed by teammate Gabby McLaughlin. 

“I wanted to debut it at a home meet because I knew the crowd was going to be amazing," Lee said. "Everyone was talking about it so I was really excited for tonight." 

An athlete of international renown, Lee could have anyone she in the world to choreograph her routine, but she chose her teammate to do so. Head coach Jeff Graba said that this says a lot about the team and the family environment that they have created with one another. 

Lee and McLaughlin also discussed McLaughlin's calmness on vault, with McLaughlin taking the question in the press conference but with Lee taking a moment to express her high regard for her teammate's skills.

“You never look nervous up there, which is what I admire,” said Lee. 

This was the team's first home meet after a tough start to their schedule — a quad meet in Las Vegas and a trip to take on Florida in the Swamp. Both Lee and McLaughlin said that the home environment was about as electric as it could get. 

“It felt amazing to be back home in front of the crowd,” Lee said. “It was an absolutely amazing environment. It felt so positive. It felt really good to be back with the family.”

When it came to beam, Sophia Groth and McLaughlin both scored the highest for Auburn with a pair of 9.900s. Groth's skills shine on beam and despite having a rough night overall, she was all smiles during her best portion of the meet.

Groth did have a stumble during her floor routine, falling during the landing of one of her tumbling passes. This was her first time performing on floor this season due to a procedure she had done in November but Graba clarified in the post-meet press conference that the mistake was technical, not injury related.

The fans present were calling for a number of perfect scores throughout the night and though Derrian Gobourne's floor routine did earn one from a single judge, the Tigers have some improvements to make before those can truly become a possibility.

“Well, I think we should get a lot more tens," Graba said. “As long as the judges are consistent I’m fine with it — consistent with us and consistent with the other team."

Derrian was not the only Gobourne family member that put on a show. Right before she took the floor, her brother made an appearance on the arena's video board as he danced to the music.  

“I loved it. I saw him dancing up there and then it made me want to dance and I was dancing too," McLaughlin said. "I think we all were dancing."

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Up next, the Tigers take on North Carolina State in Auburn on Friday, Jan. 27 at 7 p.m. CST. The meet will be available to stream on the SEC Network+.

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