Auburn Gymnasts Advance to Super Six

The Auburn women's gymnastics team has advanced to the finals of the national meet.

Fort Worth, Tex.--Auburn advanced to Super Six for the second time in school history on Friday night by finishing third in its semi-final bracket at the NCAA Women's Gymnastics Championships.

Auburn scored 197.075 led by junior Caitlin Atkinson. The All-American won the all-around competition with a score of 39.550 and finished first on the balance beam with a career-high tying score of 9.950.

The Tigers are one of six teams that will compete for the national championship on Saturday night at the Fort Worth Convention Center. In Auburn's previous trip to the Super Six in 1993 the Tigers finished in fifth place.

“I’m obviously very excited, but at the same time we went in with our approach that we had a lot of rookies here," Auburn coach Jeff Graba said. "They had never been here before. We were conscious about taking the steady-eddy approach. We were just going to try to go about our business and try to ignore what was going on around us.

"Our goal was to hit a good meet," Graba said. "I think our team is talented enough that if we hit a good meet we can beat quite a few people--at least we put ourselves in a position to move on.

"I think our girls did a good job of keeping their head down in an environment they’d never been in before. We talked a lot about fight. I’ve been at nationals before with another team, and we’ve never not had to fight at some point. I tried to get them to understand that they aren’t going to be perfect out there. They’re going to have to fight for everything we get. At the end you pick your head up and see what happened and I think that was our approach all the way throughout.

"We didn’t have a great event and we didn’t have a horrible event. We just went all the way through and put ourselves in a good position. We looked up at the end and a young team is pretty excited right now. Now I’ve got to get them to bed.”

No. 1 seed Oklahoma won the evening session with a 197.400 while No. 5 Alabama finished as the runner-up with a 197.100. No.8 Auburn finished ahead of No. 9 Nebraska (196.675), No. 4 LSU (196.550) and No. 12 Oregon State (195.875).

The other three teams in the finals are defending national champ Florida, Utah and Stanford.

The Tigers opened the competition on bars and scored 49.250. Megan Walker and Atkinson led the Tigers with scores of 9.875.

On the balance beam Auburn scored 49.325 as Atkinson threw her double pike dismount to score a 9.950. It was the highest score of the two semi-finals, earning her All-America honors and a berth to the event individual finals that will be held on Sunday.

Auburn then scored a team total 49.325 on floor led by a 9.900 from Atkinson. The Tigers’ final rotation was on vault where they scored 49.225 with Bri Guy, Kait Kluz, M.J. Rott and Lexus Demers posting scores of 9.850.

“I told them after floor when we were going to vault that we had given ourselves a good shot if we did a decent vault," Graba said. "We were a little worried about M.J. (Rott) at the time. She hurt her ankle pretty good on floor, but she’s a tough kid. I challenged the team to just go out there and do a good job and see what we could do.

"I know Caitlin looks at the scores, but she keeps it to herself, and I know there are a couple of girls who look and keep it to themselves. Most of them were excited to see that we were close enough to have an opportunity. I just feel like with a young team, the math is hard enough for me, we don’t need them doing math.”

Asked about his emotions on taking a team to the Super Six for the first time as a head coach, Graba said, “I’m not really good with that stuff. I told the girls I’d be good tomorrow night afterwards. I’m just excited.

"For me it’s half excitement and half relief," Graba said. "I felt like the team was capable of this, and you get so attached to these girls, and you just want them to live up to their potential. The preseason coach’s poll came out and I ranked us in the top six because I felt we were that good. It’s just nice to see that we were capable of it in the end. I don’t know if you can explain relief and excitement all at the same time, but that’s been how I felt all year this year.”

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