Catilin Atkinson (above) came through in the clutch for the Tigers.
Auburn, Ala.--For the first time since March of 1979, a stretch of 117 competitions, the Auburn gymnastics team found a way to defeat its archrival.
With a clutch performance by All-American senior Caitlin Atkinson on the final event of the competition before a selllout crowd of 7,424 at Auburn Arena on Friday night, No. 8 ranked Auburn got past No. 4 Alabama by a score of 197.275 to 197.250.
“I knew it was within a tenth (of a point) or somewhere around there,” Atkinson said before she closed the competition with a score of 9.925, the exact number the Tigers needed to post to win the meet. It also matched her best score of the season in the floor exercise and her all-around score of 39.650 topped her previous best this year,a 39.575 posted a week earlier in a four-team competition in Texas.
“It means everything,” Atkinson said of the victory. “This was my last dual meet vs. Bama. When you come into a rivalry like this your goal is always to come out on top. To finally do that as a senior...I think it means a lot to have the team trust me and believe in me. That allows me to trust myself in the anchor spot.”
The Tigers pulled off the win despite being short two gymnasts who are injured and out for the season.
The Tigers celebrate their victory at Auburn Arena.
“Well, that was fun,” Auburn coach Jeff Graba said.
“Honestly, it is important for me to point out the pressure the girls have been feeling because of our fans. Our fans keep showing up in bigger and bigger numbers. I really think this is for the Auburn Family and our fans. We want to be able to look up there and give them what they have given us.
“This is really special for us and something we wanted to share with them," Graba added. "I know it has been a long time. Jimmy Carter was president the last time we won. I asked the girls if they even knew who he was. They remembered the name, but just from the history books.
“It is a lot of fun on that end, but for me it is also validation of this program making into a top five program on a consistent basis, not just a fluke,” the AU coach said.
The Tigers, who qualified for the Super Six at nationals for the second time in school history last year, are focused on improving for the 2016 postseason, Graba pointed out. Atkinson agreed with the coach.
"We are going to feed off it," she said. "We are going to figure out what we did wrong and what we can do better. It is still going to be a learning experience and we are still going to get better, and we still have a lot of places to go."
Kullen Hlawek competes on beam for the Tigers.
Graba, whose team has come very close to defeating the Tide previously, noted it was pleasing to win on a night when Alabama scored well. "We didn't want to win because they had a fall," he said after his Tigers posted a season high score.
Sophomore Abby Milliet said, "I think the energy was like nothing we have had this season. I think we stayed inside our bubble and just had fun with it. We didn't care what was going on on the other side."
The Tigers opened the competition on vault with Atkinson leading the way with a 9.900. Junior M.J. Rott and senior Lexus Demers posted a pair of 9.875s. Freshman Taylor Krippner tied a career high with a 9.825 and redshirt junior Kelsey Kopec scored a 9.800. Auburn led 49.375 – 49.275 after the first rotation.
On bars Milliet and Atkinson led the Tigers with season-best scores of 9.9. Kopec scored a season-high 9.850 while Krippner and senior Kait Kluz scored 9.825.
Atkinson posted a season-high 9.925 on balance beam. Milliet matched her season high with a 9.875. Junior Kullen Hlawek and Demers scored 9.825 while freshman Samantha Cerio posted a 9.800.
Alabama entered the final rotation leading 147.950-147.825 as it competed on beam and Auburn closed on the floor. Rott and Demers posted scores of 9.9 while Milliet scored a career-high 9.875 with Hlawek scoring 9.825 prior to the 9.925 for Atkinson.
The Tigers will continue their regular season schedule next Friday at LSU, will compete in the SEC Championships on March 19th and in the NCAA Regionals on April 2nd.