Kait Kluz (above) is a senior for the Tigers.
Auburn, Ala.--In a season of firsts for Auburn’s program, the Tigers reached another milestone on Monday when they received a No. 1 seed at the NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Regional in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
On April 2nd the top two teams from each of the six regionals, which include six teams at each venue, will advance to the NCAA Championships in Fort Worth, Tex.
Coach Jeff Graba said he is excited about the team’s first-ever top seeding for a regional.
“When I got here we were typically a three or four seed out of six teams so that means you have to outperform everybody else in everybody’s eyes,”?he said. “You have to have the night of your life to beat these other teams and make it to nationals.
“The one seed is a complete different perspective for this team,” Graba pointed out. “We are supposed to be the team that is pushing the pace, that people are trying to catch and beat. What it does for our program is it puts us on a national level recruiting and respect-wise. You can’t really quantify how much it is going to mean for this program in the long term if we continue to do performances like this.”
One of the Tigers’ key contributors, senior Kait Kluz from Wixon, Mich., is a Michigan native who will be competing close to home. One of her college offers was from the University of Michigan, the host school for the regional and the No. 2 seed ahead of Stanford, Eastern Michigan, Penn State and New Hampshire.
“We just have to focus on ourselves like we always do, have fun and really go out there and do the gymnastics we have been training,” Kluz said when asked the key to advancing to nationals. “I?am really excited to see the meet we can put together.”
Kluz added that she is “super excited” about going to the regional in her home state. “Competing in Michigan in college is something I never thought I would be able to do,” she said.
Kluz and her teammates have set multiple team scoring records this season despite losing two competitors, A’Miracal Phillips and Emma Engler, to season-ending injuries early in the season.
Jeff Graba is in his sixth season as Auburn's gymnastics head coach.
“We started out very young, very inexperienced and the few upperclassmen we did have were trying to find a way of leading this team, Graba said. “We had some hiccups along the road, some injuries, but I am really proud of how the girls have continued to gel and continued to get better and challenge themselves each week. It has put us in a pretty good position.
“We didn’t just lose two periphery players,” the coach added. “We lost two players who were right in the middle of our lineups. I think it was crucial that our girls stepped up, our young people and our older leaders, and did a good job. I would say that was the turning point of the year and probably the thing I am going to look back on and be most proud of.”
Other No. 1 seeds are Oklahoma at the Iowa City Regional, Florida at the Minneapolis Regional, Utah at the Salt Lake City Regional, Alabama at the Tuscaloosa Regional and LSU at the Athens, Ga., Regional.
The top two teams from those six competitions will travel to Texas for the nationals on April 15-16 in Fort Worth. The Tigers posted a 197.150 NCAA Regional qualifying score average, the best in school history. Last season the Tigers qualified for the nationals as a two seed and advanced to the NCAA Championships where they finished sixth.