This past weekend, the Auburn Gymnastics team traveled to Athens, Georgia for their last regular season SEC match-up. To put it bluntly, the girls were on fire. The Tigers defeated the GymDogs with (another) season-best and a new record road score of 197.325 to 197.275. This was the first time Auburn had ever earned a win at Georgia and was only the fifth time the Tigers have beaten the Bulldogs in total. The first time Auburn earned a win was in 2010. Last year, the Tigers beat the Bulldogs a total of three times – at home, at SECs, and at NCAAs. Talk about a big change over the last few years!
The Tigers started the night on the uneven bars. Although there was a mistake in the line-up, the team recovered well and posted a big score of 49.35, led by Sophomore Abby Milliet who scored a 9.95. Senior Kait Kluz also had a great routine and she was rewarded with a 9.90. The girls were hitting handstands and sticking dismounts, otherwise known as the equation to uneven bars success.
Vault was the next event and Auburn kept rolling. They posted their highest vault score of the year, which was a 49.375. This time, it was Junior MJ Rott who “wowed” the judges. Rott performs a full-twisting Yurochenco (FTY) vault. Just this year, that vault was devalued from a 10.0 to a 9.95. The NCAA gymnastics community de-valued a few vaults in order to encourage more difficulty and differentiation on that particular event. So, the best score MJ could’ve earned was a 9.95, which was exactly what she received. It was one of the most beautiful FTYs I have ever seen. It deserved the perfect score. The rest of line-up all received a 9.8 or better.
On floor, the Tigers seemed to have some trouble settling down and controlling their power during their routines. Regardless of the fact that some of their landings were off, the team still managed to score a 49.3, which was boosted by Junior Kullen Hlawek’s 9.90 score in the second position. The lowest score the team earned was a 9.825. Not too shabby for an “off” day.
Finally, Auburn headed to beam: the stress event on the road. At this time, UGA had already messed up more than a few times, but you wouldn’t have known judging by the scores they were given. The scores were tight, and the home team was going to their last event, meaning scores had the potential to soar. None of that mattered to Auburn, though. Why? Because, well, we’re just so much better than UGA. The girls hit six-for-six on beam, stayed completely under control, and posted a strong score of 49.3 to win the meet. As usual, Senior Caitlin Atkinson finished with a beautiful routine in the anchor position to earn a 9.925, which was a tenth more than she needed for Auburn to win the meet. That’s what I like to call composure.
Photo Credit: Senior Caitlin Atkinson | Anthony Hall/Auburn Athletics)
With one meet left in the regular season, let’s take just a moment to reflect on the team’s success this far. They’ve had a number of record-breaking scores, namely out-scoring themselves time and time again while on the road. The Tigers barely skipped a beat after two freshmen went down for the year, showing their determination and how well-prepared the alternates had been (which led to a huge entrance onto the competitive scene for FR Sam Cerio). They’ve hung with some of the best teams (LSU) and defeated tough SEC competition (Bama, UGA, Mizzou, and Kentucky). The girls have posted huge individual scores and have reigned in amazing Auburn crowds. Finally, they’ve earned the highest ranking we’ve seen in decades; they’re currently ranked No. 7!
Now, it’s (sadly) time for the last home meet, and it’s time to honor this incredible senior class. This Friday (March 11th), the Tigers will host Arizona St. at 7 pm. Here are just a few reasons why you should be there this Friday:
Spring Break will have just started. Though we can’t blame them, this undoubtedly means that the student section will be smaller. We need the Auburn community to show up for this one, if only because it’s the last home meet and because these seniors deserve a big “going-away” party.
Lexus Demers. Demers is one of the three seniors that will be performing in Auburn Arena for the last time on Friday. She came to Auburn in the spring of 2012 and is currently a redshirt senior. When she first arrived at Auburn, she struggled with a few injuries. Her gymnastics has consistently improved and matured every year. During her RS FR season, she was often the alternate. The next year, she came in and out of line-up spots. By her junior year, she proved to be steadfast and necessary to three events. This year, she has become the leader that Auburn knew she would be.
Kait Kluz. Kluz is another example of what hard work can do for a gymnast. Kluz has always been known as someone with huge skills, but when she first got to Auburn, it was her form and presentation that needed work. Every single year, her averages have improved. She has transformed her floor routine into a routine of sass and presence, something I am sure has even surprised her. During her career at Auburn, she has always been the “go-to” girl. If Head Coach Jeff Graba needed a hit set, Kluz was his girl. She’s rarely missed a routine and has been the definition of reliable.
Caitlin Atkinson. I shouldn’t even have to describe why she deserves a huge crowd on Senior Night, but in case you’ve missed any part of her success, I’ll fill you in now. Atkinson will go down as one of the most successful gymnasts in Auburn history. In her freshman season, she qualified to NCAAs as an individual. Since she stepped foot on the NCAA scene, she’s been known for her big gymnastics, extreme focus, and consistency. She’s fun to watch and has often been in the position where her routine would determine the outcome of the meet (and she almost always came through). Last year at NCAAs, she placed third in the All-Around, had the highest score on beam in Prelims, and placed 8th during beam finals. She’s an All-Around gymnast that will be greatly missed by Auburn.
The Success of the 2016 Auburn Tigers. At the start of this year, there was concern that Auburn may experience a drop-off, considering so many of last year’s seniors were prevalent in several line-ups. Not only did this team prove that theory wrong, but they also kept the momentum building. After Auburn made the Super Six last year, the perception of Auburn gymnastics had changed. We became known as a competitive team, one that could hang with the best of them. But, if the 2016 team hadn’t come out ready to go, that perception could’ve easily disappeared with the notion that last year’s success was a fluke. This team has made us all so incredibly proud this year. Show them that on Friday night.
ASU’s Recent Struggles. There’s nothing more difficult than going through years of transition. Arizona St. gained a new coach, René Lyst, in May of 2014. Just last week, she was placed on “indefinite administrative leave.” Though there’s no reason to speculate why this has happened, there is something worth mentioning. I’ve watched ASU so far this year and there was a notable difference in the way the girls competed on Friday when Lyst was not present at the meet. It seemed as though there was a release of some unknown tension, and the team performed quite well. It would be nice for ASU to experience a great environment in Auburn Arena. After all, we may not want them to win, but I’m sure we all want these gymnasts to end their season on a good note. At this time, ASU does not seem to be able to qualify to Regionals, so once their conference meet is over, their season will be over, too. Let’s take the time to show them what a great place Auburn is to compete and help them enjoy one of their last meets of the year.
The meet will be at 7pm CT in Auburn Arena and will be broadcast on the SEC Network+. I will be commentating alongside Jeff Shearer, so if you can’t make it to Auburn Arena, make sure you watch online. I can’t wait to see these girls in action one more time and I can’t wait to see the seniors shine of Friday. See you there and War Eagle.