Gymnasts Excited About NCAA Regional Draw

The Auburn gymnastics team will be competing with its archrival and four other colleges for a trip to the NCAA Championships.

Caitlin Atkinson (above) set Auburn's school record for top all-around score this season.

Auburn, Ala.--Auburn coach Jeff Graba said he was pleased but not surprised with the lineup of teams coming to Auburn Arena for the NCAA Gymnastics Regional meet scheduled for 6 p.m. CDT on Saturday, April 4th.

The Tigers, who are ranked No. 8 nationally, are the No. 2 seed for the event that will be held at Auburn Arena, where the team has scored well this season. Fifth-ranked Alabama, the SEC champion Alabama is the top seed and Minnesota, the No. 17 seed nationally in the NCAA field that features 36 teams, is the third seed for the Auburn regional ahead of Iowa, Maryland and George Washington.

“I am excited to have Alabama here,” said Graba after the postseason bids were announced on Monday. “I think it will be good for our crowd. I think our girls are up for the challenge. It is not hard for an Auburn person to get up for an Alabama meet so that will be good. We have Minnesota down here as well and they edged us two years ago (at an NCAA regional) so I can’t imagine we won’t be trying to be pretty sharp against them as well.”

Auburn’s fifth-year head coach said the older gymnasts on his team who lost to Minnesota have already talked about wanting to make sure it doesn’t happen again. “I do think that is an extra motivating factor, but you don’t need a lot of motivation when Alabama is the top team coming in,” Graba said. “We will be juiced up and ready to go.”

Coming off the team’s best finish at the SEC Championships since 1993 with a fourth place finish on Saturday, the Tigers have the potential to post their best score of the season in the Auburn Regional, one of six NCAA meets around the country that will determine which 12 teams advance to the nationals. The top two teams from each regional move on to the nationals.

Asked about his team’s health, Graba said, “Right now we seem to be in pretty good shape. I think we will have everybody available to us now--finally. We haven’t had that all year. We still have got to a good job the next week-and-a-half managing everybody.”

Because this is the deepest team the Tigers have had in recent years, the coach has options on which athletes to put in the lineup for the regional meet. “The difference now is I have to make all of the decisions,” he said. “Funny, sometimes the health makes the decision for me. Now I get the decision so I better not screw this one up.”

Asked what his team’s potential is to have its best meet of the season on April 4th, Graba said, “Just the law of averages would say we have to hit at some point here. It is funny, we had a little of a meeting before the selection show and we were talking about it. We have set a whole a lot of records this year, the girls have done a really good job, scored really high, got ranked really highly, but none of us have been happy with any of our performances. We have been really pleased with a few, but if you really break it down we feel we left some stuff on the table. I?know they are ready for the performance.”

Even though he wants more from his gymnasts, Graba’s Tigers have broken and rebroken the AU team scoring records this season, which has placed the squad in a great position to earn the fourth trip in Auburn history to the nationals. The team’s best finish was fifth place back in 1993.

“This is what we have been shooting for ever since I got here, to put ourselves in a position where we can have a regional where we can match up against the top team,” Graba said. “You have to beat four teams in this regional, and any regional. The best case scenario is you match up against the top team. If you match up against them you feel pretty comfortable you can beat the other teams in the session as well.”

The Auburn coach pointed out the Tigers are excited about their potential for having a strong finish to the season. “Finally we are the point in our program where we can be a high two seed,” said Graba, whose team set a school record for home attendance this year, averaging 6,188 per meet.

Tickets to the NCAA Regional at Auburn Arena can be ordered at and are $8 for reserved seating and $5 for general admission.The nationals are scheduled for April 17-19 in Fort Worth, Tex.

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