By Lauren Smith, College and Magnolia contributor
The Auburn gymnastics team went into Saturday's NCAA regional gymnastics meet knowing they were in for a fight.
With a competitive field, the Tigers were going to need to have a flawless meet to qualify for nationals. With only the top two teams from the meet moving on, the Tiger's 4th place finish meant their team season ended that night, but their season also ended on a number of impressive notes:
Their team score of 196.1 was the second-highest regional meet score in program history. Freshman Bri Guy qualified as an individual all-around competitor for the NCAA national championship, and senior Kylie Shields qualified as an individual competitor on vault. Finally, Auburn finishes their season ranked #15 in the nation. War Eagle, ladies.
This regional meet was one of the toughest fields of competitors. Six teams - Auburn, University of Georgia, University of Michigan, Michigan State University, West Virginia University, and Oregon State University - were all looking for at top two finish in order to advance to nationals. UGa was off a disappointing 3rd place finish in the SEC Championship, and is on the hunt for another national championship. Going in to this meet, they were going to be the team to beat. Michigan was coming in ranked #11, and had finished 4th at the Big 10 Championships. Oregon State was coming in ranked #7, and was boasting a 3rd place finish at the PAC-12 championship. Auburn was up against teams that were playing to win, and the competition was going to be tight.
The Tigers opened the meet on bars, which has typically been strong for them. However, the women seemed to struggle a little bit that night. The two keys to bars (besides catching the bar on release moves) are to hit the handstand positions in a straight up and down position, and to - of course - stick the landing. All of those things which the Tigers have excelled at all season fell a little short. All of those things cost the gymnasts tenths that they could not afford. The routines were solid, and they were good, but they were not excellent, and a meet this tight demanded excellence. Bri Guy had a 9.75, Abby Habicht a 9.7, Megan Walker a 9.775, Petrina Yokay a 9.8, Ally Sandusky a 9.8, and Kylie Shields a 9.775. The overall team score was a 48.9, which was low for the Tigers on bars.
Moving to beam, the freshmen definitely delivered. A big regional meet, people on every event, lots of noise is nerve-wracking, but Auburn's freshmen looked outstanding on beam that night. It is great to know they will be around for a while! Petrina Yokay and Abby Habicht both started off with 9.75's, Megan Walker had a 9.8, Ally Sandusky had a gorgeous routine for a 9.85. It became obvious at this point that the Tigers were fighting hard. Kylie Shields had some troubles in her routine, and had a 9.5, but Bri Guy finished out with a 9.825 which allowed the team to drop Kylie's score. Overall, a very solid beam rotation for the Tigers.
Floor has been another rotation where the Tigers have been strong this season, but this night brought some big mistakes that hurt the scores. Caryn Kadous opened up with a 9.725, which was low due to her being a little short on her last tumbling pass. Senior Laura Lane had the best routine of the season for a 9.825. Kylie Shields, who had not looked like her normal solid self all night, had some big stumbles in her tumbling and scored a 9.675. Brittany Webster delivered a solid 9.8. Toi Garcia, normally a great performer for the Tigers, fell in her first tumbling pass and only scored a 9.3. Bri Guy closed out the rotation with a 9.875. The team score of 48.9 for the Tigers on floor was definitely not what they could have scored, and hurt them in what was a very tight fight for second. By this point in the meet, UGa had all but run away with first place.
The final event for the Tigers was vault, which had been the weakest event for the gymnasts all season. But not this night. The Tigers had the best meet of the year on vault, with a team high score of 49.325. Petrina Yokay led off with a 9.825, Brittany Webster had a near fall and a 9.0, Ally Sandusky scored a 9.8, Kylie Shields shook off her other performances and nailed a career high 9.925, Toi Garcia scored a 9.875, and Bri Guy finished the rotation out with a career high 9.9.
At the end of the meet, Kylie Shields took top honors in vault while Bri Guy placed 4th. Ally Sandusky took 3rd on beam, Bri Guy took 4th on floor, and Bri also placed 5th in the all-around. Bri and Kylie will head to Duluth, Ga the weekend of April 21-23 to compete as individual competitors in the NCAA National Championships.
We wish them both luck, and give a big "War Eagle" to all the outstanding gymnasts who accomplished so many great things over this season!