Auburn, Ala.--Despite struggles on the balance beam, normally a strong event, host Auburn advanced to the NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships with a strong finish at the regional qualifying meet in its home arena.
The Tigers advanced to the nationals for the first time since 2003 and did it with plenty of room to spare thanks to strong finishes on the floor competition and the vault.
Auburn coach Jeff Graba said his athletes were under pressure to take advantage of their opportunity to advance to the nationals in a season during which the Tigers broke most of the school scoring records and closed the regular season ranked No. 8 nationally.
"If you don't hit at this meet, you don't go (to nationals)," Graba pointed out.
The coach added, "The finality of it makes it the hardest meet of the year. With the performances out there it was obvious it was setting on some teams and the pressure was getting to some of them and it got to us early."
Graba, who is in his fifth season at Auburn, said, "I don't think anybody understands the enormous pressure this team was putting on themselves and under...We tried to mask it as best we could, but the whole year would be a failure if we didn't make this. It is hard to say it that way because we have broken so many records, but that is how this team would have reacted."
Alabama won the event with a score of 197.575 with Auburn scoring 196.900. Maryland was a distant third with 195.150 ahead of Minnesota, which collapsed on the bars in its final rotation. Iowa was fifth at 194.675 and George Washington was last at 194.150.
The Tigers and Tide plus 10 other teams will compete April 17-19th at the nationals being held in Fort Worth, Tex. Auburn’s all-time best finish at that meet is a fifth place in 1993.
Minnesota, which kept Auburn from going to nationals two years ago, had a chance to repeat history, but Auburn nailed the vault to close the meet in the final rotation. Lexus Demurs and M.J. Rott scored 9.9s in the event while Bri Guy and Kait Klutz scored 9.875 with Catilin Atkinson and Brittany Webster posting 8.50s.
M.J. Rott competes in the floor exercise.
"I thought the girls did a good job of staying together as a team," Auburn coach Jeff Graba said. "I would like to compliment the crowd. It was a wild night, it was crazy in there, and that only helps, in my estimation, the good teams and the good athletes."
The Tigers scored 49.100 on beam, 49.175 on floor, 49.225 on bars and 49.400 on vault.
Senior Megan Walker, a second team All-American, scored a 9.90 on the beam, the second highest score in that event for the meet. She said it is special for her team to earn the trip to nationals after wanting to do it her three previous seasons, something she was expecting. “That is not how this process works,” she said. “It is a little bit of change every single year to finally have it happen as we are leaving to start the legacy and kick it off, it is exciting.”
Fellow senior Atkinson, a first team All-American, said she is fired up to return to her home state of Texas for the NCAA Championships, especially after being close to doing it with her teammates in previous seasons.
“To see it pay off with all of our hard work it is super exciting,” Atkinson said. “Tears, excitement--I can’t wait.”
Auburn's team total was the highest ever for the Tigers at an NCAA regional competition. Atkinson said doing it at home was special. “Being able to do it in front of our own crowd was really exciting, to have that energy to back us up," Atkinson said. "When we struggled a little bit, they picked us up. They wanted us to go ahead and do our best and achieve our goal. It was really good for us.”