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Auburn gymnastics taking a joy ride to NCAA Championships
April 4, 2015

Auburn has reason to celebrate after qualifying for the NCAA Championships in Fort Worth

By Charles Goldberg

AUBURN, Ala. -- Megan Walker is talking about going on a little trip and she's taking her Auburn gymnastics teammates with her.

Walker and Auburn qualified for the NCAA Championships in Fort Worth with a big-time finish in the regional they hosted Saturday night that sent them on their merry way.

"This is going to be a joy ride. This is a reward for us," Walker said. "This is the beginning of a new era for Auburn and our team. It's going to be craziness."

Walker helped Auburn finish second in the regional in Auburn Arena to gain a spot in the championships April 17-19. Alabama won the regional, and, by finishing first and second, the two old rivals became two of 12 teams that qualified for the main event.

Auburn's score of 196.900 set a school record for an NCAA regional. Alabama won the regional with a 197.575. Maryland was third followed by Minnesota, Iowa and George Washington.

This is the fourth time the Tigers have made the NCAA Championships. The other times: 1991, 1992 and 2003.

Auburn finished strong Saturday night, putting up solid scores in its final rotations in the floor and vault. The Tigers were calculating the final scores before it was officially announced.

"I know everyone was tears and excitement," said gymnast Caitlin Atkinson.

Auburn coach Jeff Graba spoke of a steadier approach.

"We talked all day that you have to fight for everything you get here. I don't think it was a surprise we were fighting all night," he said.

Auburn started on the bars and its second rotation was the beam. It didn't fare as well there as it did in its most recent meet, the Southeastern Conference Championships.

"I didn't get on them," Graba said. "I just went back and reminded them we're really good on floor and vault."

Auburn responded as the fans cheered on their Tigers, helping them, the gymnasts said, rush past Minnesota and Maryland as the meet wound down.

"It was a wild night. It was crazy in there," Graba said. "That only helps the good teams and the good athletes."

The crowd appreciated the effort.

"It was awesome to hear the War Eagles and Roll Tides back and forth," said Alabama gymnast Keely McNeer.

Alabama had the lead and a bye during the final rotation. Auburn wanted to make sure it would hold off the other challengers.

"This is the hardest event of the year. It's one and done. If you don't hit this meet, you don't go," Graba said. "Here, the finality of it makes it the hardest meet of the year.

"The whole year would have been a failure if we had not made this."

Lexus Demers and MJ Rott made sure that didn't happen in the vault. They each scored a 9.900 in the vault to close out Auburn's performance. Atkinson and Walker scored 9.9000 in the bars. Walker scored a 9.900 on the beam. Atkinson scored a 9.875 on the floor. She finished fourth in the all-around.

Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at Follow him on Twitter:



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