By Ethan Brady
FORT WORTH, Texas -- No. 8 Auburn gymnastics secured a spot in the Super Six for the first time in 22 years and the second time in history with its highest NCAA nationals score of 197.075, earning third at the NCAA National Championships semifinal at the Fort Worth Convention Center on Friday.
Junior All-American Cailtin Atkinson won all-around with a 39.550 and won beam with a career-high tying 9.950.
"We talked a lot about fight," head coach Jeff Graba said. "I tried to get them to understand that they aren't going to be perfect out there. They're going to have to fight for everything we get. At the end, you pick your head up and see what happened. And I think that was our approach all the way throughout.
"We didn't have a great event, and we didn't have a horrible event. We just went all the way through and put ourselves in a good position. We looked up at the end and a young team is pretty excited right now."
Saturday's Super Six includes No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 2 Florida, No. 3 Utah, No. 5 Alabama, No. 8 Auburn and No. 11 Stanford.
"We were conscious about taking the steady-eddy approach," Graba said. "We were just going to try to go about our business and try to ignore what was going on around us. Our goal was to hit a good meet. I think our team is talented enough that if we hit a good meet we can beat quite a few people."
The Tigers started the meet on bars, scoring a team total 49.250. Megan Walker and Caitlin Atkinson led the team with scores of 9.875.
On beam, Atkinson threw her double pike dismount to score a career-high tying 9.950. It was the highest score of the two semifinals, earning her All-America honors and a berth to the event finals Sunday. The routine helped give the Tigers a team total of 49.275.
"Our approach going into prelims was just to go out and have a fun time and do that like we know how to," Atkinson said. "Our goal at the beginning of the season was to make nationals. We had great routines. We even fought through some adversity. Just to be able to do it with my team is honestly so great."
Auburn scored a team total 49.325 on floor led by a 9.900 from Atkinson. The Tigers finished the meet on vault with a team total 49.225. Bri Guy, Kait Kluz, MJ Rott and Lexus Demers led the team with scores of 9.850.
"I'm just excited," Graba said. "For me, it's half excitement and half relief. I felt like the team was capable of this, and you get so attached to these girls, and you just want them to live up to their potential, and the preseason coach's poll came out, and I ranked us in the top six because I felt we were that good. It's just nice to see that we were capable of it in the end."
No. 1 Oklahoma won the evening session with a 197.400 while No. 5 Alabama finished as the runner-up with a 197.100, edging out No. 8 Auburn 197.075. No. 9 Nebraska claimed fourth at 196.675 followed by No. 4 LSU at 196.550 and No. 12 Oregon State at 195.875.
The Super Six is Saturday at 6 pm CT at the Fort Worth Convention Center and will be streamed on ESPN3.com. The individual finals will be on Sunday.