Jan. 3, 2013
by Morgan Murphy
Auburn Media Relations
For the Auburn women’s gymnastics team, it hopes the start of the 2013 season mirrors its finish – on California soil. Head Coach Jeff Graba and the 2013 squad debut in Berkeley, Calif. against the Cal Bears in January and the primary goal for the year is to qualify for the NCAA Championships in Los Angeles in April. To get there they’ll have a long, tough road including a conference schedule loaded with the toughest competition in the country. Graba wouldn’t have it any other way, knowing the rigors of the SEC will demand excellence from his squad.
Sunday’s meet is scheduled for 4 p.m. CT.
“I think in any sport the SEC is a tremendous conference, but in gymnastics in particular. Only one school outside of the SEC has won the National Championship in the last decade,” Graba said. “You have to have a deep squad and a good plan of attack for the whole season, because it’s a long season, and you’re expected to compete every Friday night, which is pretty difficult with this sport. It’s a tough environment to get used to, but it will hopefully prepare us for attaining our goal in the end.”
Last season Auburn finished the season ranked 15th, set attendance records and Graba was named SEC Coach of the Year. Heading into 2013, the team is motivated for more.
The challenge for the Tigers this season will be whether a young squad can regularly produce quality routines each week. Graba knows he will need to utilize the depth and versatility of his roster to accomplish that goal. Aiding that quest this year is a talented group of six freshmen who will be called upon to compete.
“We’re expecting a lot of people to step in and contribute,” Graba said. “We’ve brought in a deeper squad, because most of the girls are capable of doing three or four events, which is beneficial to us because it gives us a deeper lineup.”
Graba is entering his third year as Auburn’s head coach and believes this is his most talented squad yet.
“As far as talent, this is the first class that I was able to recruit, and I’m pretty happy with the talent level,” Graba said. “I think we are improving in talent, and when I say that I mean we are replacing a senior who was really good on one event with a person who is good on that event, plus good on other events. So when you look at our whole team, I think we’re deeper and stronger.”
After the Berkeley trip, the Tigers return to The Plains for the home opener against Kentucky. The Tigers also will host Arkansas and LSU, two programs that advanced to the NCAA Championships in 2012. Auburn has road meets at powerhouse programs Georgia, Florida and Alabama, along with the SEC’s newest member, Missouri.
Graba expressed his excitement about this squad, but knows that consistency will be crucial to attaining their postseason goals.
“The difference will be, can all that hard work shine through in competition season, in the culminating moment,” Graba said. “I think we’re going in the right direction. We felt like the last few years one of the main obstacles we had to overcome was hitting in the big and decisive meets. For us, everything comes down to the end. Our win-loss record doesn’t matter as much as the score, the SEC Championships, NCAA Regionals and obviously Nationals, so those are the big meets. You can’t hide it from your team. Everything comes down to those meets.”
In a conference of championship programs, the Tigers are working to build a foundation of talent, hard work and passion.
“We need to keep our head down and stay focused,” Graba said. “In this conference, everybody’s a tremendous competitor.”
The SEC consistently produces the top squads in the nation, with all eight conference programs finishing in the NCAA Top 25 rankings in 2012.
“That’s how competitive this conference is,” Graba added. “I’m absolutely excited about this group. I do think that there is an excitement around Auburn gymnastics right now that people want to be a part of it, not just our fan base, but people throughout the country.”
For Graba and his team the goal is clear: make it back to California in April.
“Our team is striving to make it to the Super Six; that’s what our goal is,” Sophomore Caryn Kadous said. “That’s pretty much what a lot of our work is going toward right now. We’re striving to reach it. We’re refining the details, making sure we work on the details every day, to be at our best come the spring.”