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'It's been a long time coming' - Auburn gymnasts celebrate
Feb. 15, 2016

By Jeff Shearer

By the time Jeff Graba finished speaking to reporters after Auburn's first victory over Alabama in 37 years, the Tigers' gymnastics coach had received a hundred congratulatory text messages and emails.

"I answered most of those on the way to the after-party," Graba said.

"By the time I joined up with the rest of the staff, there were another 161 texts messages waiting to be opened," he said. "It surprised me how fast your battery life can go."

In addition to the sell-out crowd at Auburn Arena, the Tigers' 197.275-197.250 win was televised live on the SEC Network.

"It's all over the country," Graba said. "Everybody was watching it. People who aren't even into gymnastics were texting me. It was a lot of fun."

For Graba, in his sixth season at Auburn, the well wishes from his fellow coaches were most gratifying.

"Part of it is this program. We've become the thing to watch to see if we can actually do it," he said. "There are a lot of people who were just rooting for us. There were teams that we've already seen this year that the coaches texted me and said, `After seeing you, we knew that this was going to be the year you guys could put it together.'

"They could recognize our talents," Graba said. "In the end, for a coach you don't get any better compliment than another coach saying that you're a legitimate team."

For Lexus Demers, whose 9.9 on floor set the stage for Caitlin Atkinson's meet-clinching 9.925 routine, social media allowed fans and friends to express their appreciation.

"When I got back into the locker room and checked my phone, I had so many text messages and Facebook requests," Demers said.

"Just the raw emotion after everything had finally settled in," said Demers, a fifth-year senior. "It's a shock. It's overwhelming. It's been a long time coming. We've trained really hard to beat Alabama. With a streak like that, it's something that always weighs in the back of your mind."

"It's that one thing that you've always grasped for and you've been so close for so long. And we finally did it," she said.

Kait Kluz had trouble sleeping Friday night, the adrenaline rush was slow to subside.

"Just running over to the student section. Just seeing and hearing the crowd's reaction. I think that was the most exciting," Kluz said. "To put on a show for our fans, that was what it was all about."

Kluz and her fellow gymnasts continued their tradition of thanking fans as they exited the arena.

"Just the amount of people who were so overjoyed and ecstatic for us, it was really exciting," she said. "It was really exciting to see the impact that meet had on them."

"At the end of the night, when they announced the end result, all of the girls were celebrating and all I felt was relief," Graba said.

The day after the history-making meet, Auburn celebrated its first defeat of Alabama in 118 tries by returning to practice. Business as usual.

"In my estimation, I knew we were capable of this, but we've been so close, you start to feel a little snake-bitten," Graba said. "We finally got the monkey off our back, or King Kong or however you want to say it. It's nice get this one behind us. We reminded the girls on Saturday. It was a great accomplishment, but it's not going to mean a whole lot if we don't keep building off of it."

Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at Follow him on Twitter:



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