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Big finish: Auburn's Caitlin Atkinson shines at NCAAs
April 15, 2016

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Caitlin Atkinson finished her Auburn career on a high note in NCAA Championships
Caitlin Atkinson finished her Auburn career on a high note in NCAA Championships

By Charles Goldberg

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Caitlin Atkinson thought about her day, her final routine, her last moments as a college gymnast.

"It set in that I won't be in the gym Monday. And after my floor routine, I was pretty emotional. But I look forward to my next journey. This has been my journey for 17 or 18 years. Now, I have a new one."

Caitlin Atkinson, Auburn senior, ended her college career on a high note at the NCAA Gymnastics Championships on Friday by leading the Tigers in scoring in vault, bar and beam. Another senior, Lexus Demers, led Auburn on floor.

They finished their careers with something to remember on a day when Auburn's youth and injuries finally caught up with the Tigers. Auburn finished fifth in the afternoon session, missing a chance to participate in the NCAA's Super Six where the national title will be awarded Saturday.

The Tigers were a surprise Super Six participate last year. They made it back to the national championships this week, defying the odds again.

"People were writing us off when we were fully healthy because of the youth of our team, saying we weren't going to make nationals," coach Jeff Graba said. "We knew we had uphill battle, and when we lost two of our main players, I think everybody shuddered a little bit. Then we settled down and started overachieving. In the end, we did a really good job getting here. But we had no bodies left.

"But I couldn't be more proud of the team. In my estimation, they over-performed all the way to the national championships."

Auburn started slowly on the vault and never recovered, finishing with a team score of 195.100. Florida won the session with a 197.475. LSU and Georgia also advanced from the afternoon session. Three more teams were set to advance from Friday's night session.

"I know we said we had nothing to hold back for, and we really didn't, but we were never able to truly let go," Demers said. "One thing happened and the next thing happened and it went downhill.

"But, overall, we had a great season. We overcame a lot of obstacles. We set some records. You've just got to look back at the experience and the opportunities that we had."

Atkinson, the SEC gymnast of the year, showed the way at the end, scoring a 9.862 on vault, a 9.850 on bars and a 9.837 on beam. She scored 9.662 on floor.

"I'm glad Caitlin went out with a bang," Graba said. "She did what we would have expected her to do, and what she came in to do, and that's lead our team. I'm very excited she went out this way."

It was Demers who had the best floor score at 9.862 on Auburn's last event.

"It hit me a little bit at the end of my floor routine, knowing that was the last performance I'm going to have," Demers said. "But it doesn't mean I want go to the gym and goof around a little bit.

"I'm just extremely grateful. Gymnastics taught me so much. I'll forever be grateful."

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



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