Feb. 6, 2012
AUBURN – Auburn gymnastics coach Jeff Graba wasn’t mad. His team had just put up its second-best score of the season and highest road score of the year against No. 2 Arkansas with a 195.800 showing on Friday night. Despite a lack of anger, he wasn’t happy. Graba was disappointed in a missed opportunity for his squad.
“The more that we watch the video of the meet, the more that I see good stuff that out-weighs the stuff that frustrates me,” Graba said. “The only thing that frustrated any of us on Friday night was that it seemed like we were not sharp coming out of the gate and it took us a while to get rolling. That and the fact that Caryn (Kadous) turned her ankle a little bit and it threw a monkey wrench into two line-ups. It ended up being a good thing because we were able to get Lexus (Demers) in and we got to see what she was capable of.”
Graba was disappointed that his team started slowly in the first two rotations on Friday night. Just one week removed from its best overall meet of the young season, Auburn was trailing one of the top teams in the country in a hostile, road environment and the second-year coach could tell there was a partial hangover from the previous week’s rivalry matchup.
“I think that some of it is that we came off of a really big meet at Alabama,” Graba said. “I think that was tough. Plus it was a long road trip. We have some people that are seasoned, but I still think that we are a little bit young. If you look at how things went, the earlier lineups were the ones that struggled. The people who had been through the ringer a bunch of times were doing a really good job.”
Those youngsters have helped Auburn to its current No. 13 ranking, the highest for the Tigers since January 2010, but despite their successes in the gym, they are still picking up the nuances of SEC life. It’s because of that learning curve that Graba is glad to see that the toughest portion of Auburn’s schedule is nearly complete.
“It just seems like we are slowly hammering out how to get out on the road and do these long travel meets,” Graba said. “If you look at the end of the season you will see that we don’t have really lengthy travel for SEC meets. We are hosting regionals and if we qualify to nationals, it is not a long trip either. The only three long trips that we have remaining are the ones coming up in the next couple of weeks.”
The three long trips Graba mentions are this weekend’s journey to Morgantown, West Virginia, late February’s visit to Kentucky, and a March 9 date at Southeast Missouri. Auburn’s trip to the SEC Championship will be a short venture up I-85 to the Gwinnett Center outside Atlanta, the site that will also host NCAA Nationals in April.
The Tigers will serve as hosts to one of six NCAA Regional sites on April 7.
With the travel situation mostly resolved, Graba is thinking of his talented underclassmen less and less as freshmen and is counting on them more and more to put up consistent scores as they begin to get comfortable with the week-to-week trials of collegiate gymnastics.
“They aren’t really freshmen anymore,” Graba said. “They’ve had a good sample of everything at this point. They have all made mistakes, but everybody has seemed to correct those mistakes. To me it is more where you are at with all of your athletes. You need to find the routine that works for you this year. Even for the seniors it is a different season every year. You have got to find out a way to get through your preparation for a long trip. Now we have a quad meet, so the time between rotations is less. Everything is going on at the same time. This is the opportunity to get ready for the postseason. The freshmen are right in the mix now.
Like Graba said, this weekend introduces Auburn a pair of changes. First, the Tigers will compete on a Sunday for the first time in 2012, while the meet will also be the first meet in a four-team format of the season. Auburn visits No. 24 West Virginia for a quad-meet that also features No. 11 Ohio State and Ball State.
“It is a good set of teams that we compete against so we have to be focused and we have to be on our ‘A’ game,” Graba said. “We also have to keep in mind that we are also preparing for the postseason here. One of the steps in preparing ourselves for the postseason is having success in these types of meets. The nice thing is that we are going to go in there and have some pretty good competition, so we have to learn to get our head down and get used to that four-team format.”
Sunday’s meet is scheduled for 1 p.m. CT. Single-meet general admission tickets are still available for Auburn’s remaining home meets. Additionally, tickets for the upcoming NCAA Regional in Auburn are on sale. For more information on tickets, visit www.AUBTIX.com.