Photography: Anthony Hall

Auburn's Gymnasts Headed to NCAA Regional Looking for Spot at Nationals

Coach Jeff Graba's Tigers looking for team's best performance at regional meet.

Kullen Hlawek (above) is a senior for the Auburn Tigers.

Auburn, Ala.--After his team posted its highest score of the season in the SEC Women’s Gymnastics Championships on Saturday, Auburn Coach Jeff Graba said he believes that performance could be a boost heading into competition at the NCAA South Central Regional.

On Monday the coach and his athletes learned they will compete as the No. 4 seed in the six-team regional at Fayetteville, Ark., scheduled for April 1st.

“Normally, I would say it is not a big deal meet-to-meet to adjust, but this young team, I think, needed to have some confidence so this particular year having this meet at SECs was a big deal.

“I think the team took away from it they can compete with any team in the country,” said Graba, whose Tigers scored a 196.550 at the league championship meet in Jacksonville, Fla.

If the they are going to make a return trip to the national meet that only12 teams qualify for, Graba says his group is going to have to be very sharp.

“Regionals is a hit meet,”?the coach said. “If you don’t hit it doesn’t matter where you are. It doesn’t matter how good you are. If you don’t hit, you don’t go to nationals.

“It is not really who you are up against, or anything like that,” Graba said of the draw. “I think we have the scoring potential to go, but we are up against really quality opponents. I think we have the toughest regional in the field. Everybody is in the Top 28 so this will make the seventh straight that for some reason we got the toughest regional. We just have to be on our game and we should be fine.”

The Tigers were a No. 1 regional seed last year in Ann Arbor, Mich., where they qualified for the nationals. This year No. 4 national seed Utah is the top seed in the regional with Auburn. The Utes have a regional qualifying score of 197.550 followed by No. 9 Denver (197.040), No. 16 California (196.575), Auburn (196.265), host Arkansas (195.775) and Central Michigan (195.765).

Kullen Hlawek, a senior from Fulshear, Tex., is hoping the regional isn’t her last Auburn meet. She noted that the Tigers are improving and said, “I think we are ready to peak at regionals.”

Graba noted that the Tigers have a chance to post a higher score than they have at any meet this season. “I don’t think the SEC meet was anywhere close to our best. We had a mistake on three events. Our vault was the only event I would say we didn’t make a mistake on. We can get significantly better.”

The coach said physically his team has the capability of performing well at the regional. “If we can put the mental mistakes aside we are pretty dangerous and we might be a team nobody really wants in the regional.”

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