By Jeff Shearer
Auburn's gymnasts are coming off their best performance of the season, just in time for a top-10 matchup with their in-state rival.
After scoring 196.825 last week at a quad meet in Texas, No. 8 Auburn welcomes No. 4 Alabama to Auburn Arena Friday at 7:30 p.m. on SEC Network.
"We're really excited for all of the fans to be there," junior Kullen Hlawek said. "I know a lot of people have said it's going to be a packed crowd. And we're really excited for the energy that brings. And also to show finally that we've put it all together and show the fans how we really operate."
The Tigers have already experienced competing in a sold-out arena when they hosted then top-ranked Florida in January.
"I hope it helps, because we didn't do as well as we would have hoped in front of that kind of crowd the first time," coach Jeff Graba said. "We talked with the girls. I tried to remind them Saturday morning. The whole reason they came here was they wanted to be in front of a lot of people. So they have to embrace that.
"I do believe the upperclassmen are good at it at this point. They saw it last year," Graba said. "I think it was just a shock to the young people initially. And I think it's going to be helpful that we already have one so far. We have to be really good about getting in our bubble and not letting that stuff bug us, but we also have to draw off the energy of the crowd, and I'm hoping the Auburn fans bring a lot of energy."
Auburn fans can be counted on to be their most energized when the opponent is Alabama.
"We're just focusing on having fun and putting on a good show for the fans," Hlawek said. "And if the outcome turns out that way, then that's great. And if not, we're just looking to do the best we can and get great scores."
"Gymnastics is a weird entity in the fact that you are going head to head," Graba said. "The best way to measure yourself against these other teams is to have them right across the floor. You can't hide from the fact that you want to win that night, but also, because there is no defense in our sport, you really can't do anything about it. You have to rely on what you are doing yourself.
"So it's a double-edged sword. You want to acknowledge the fact that we all want to win. And we all want to end the streak and all of that other stuff. But in the other end of the spectrum, it's one of the best teams in the history of gymnastics that we're going against. And if we don't do our job, we won't have a shot," he said.
For senior Kait Kluz, the opportunity to make Auburn gymnastics history by ending Alabama's long series winning streak is appealing.
"It would definitely be exciting. It definitely makes each team better because it is such a great rivalry," Kluz said. "And I think with hopefully a sellout crowd, it will be really exciting for us, but we have to maintain that energy. Instead of letting it get to us, like last time, I think we definitely need to draw from it. Make it a really exciting meet for our fans."
-- Jeff Shearer (@jeff_shearer) February 8, 2016
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer