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'We're all going to cry a little bit' - Senior Night for Auburn Gymnasts
March 10, 2016

By Jeff Shearer

Auburn's gymnasts have already shed a few tears on Senior Night, and it wasn't even at their school.

So there's no doubt that tears will be flowing Friday at Auburn Arena when the Tigers' trio -- Caitlin Atkinson, Lexus Demers, and Kait Kluz -- performs at home for the final time.

"It started to hit me especially at Georgia," Atkinson said. "They did their Senior Night after the meet, so we got to watch that. And all the seniors started getting emotional just because we were like, `We're not ready. We don't want ours to be over.'"

"I will be overwhelmed with emotion," Demers said. "I usually let my emotions get the best of me. And I'm very sensitive at heart. I know it's going to be tough. I know I'm going to look over at my coaches, and we're all going to cry a little bit, because it's been a long journey since I began here. I've really grown and developed into the person I am today. I can thank gymnastics for that, and the coaching staff, and just really everyone here at Auburn.

"So I think it's going to be overwhelming," Demers said. "But as long as I can pull it together after that little entrance. It should all be good."

"It's definitely going to be emotional," Kluz said. "There's no denying that. As a class, for all that we've done for this program. I've just kind of been telling myself, `Once announcements are over, we get to vault, it's business as usual.' So really looking forward to embracing my final performance in Auburn Arena, but also telling myself at the same time, `This season is far from over. We still have a lot to accomplish.'"

That's the message coach Jeff Graba wants to send to his veterans, who are trying to help Auburn score a fifth straight 197.

"It's going to be a tough night on Friday to say goodbye," he said. "I'm trying to remind them that we actually still have things left to do afterwards, but hopefully they'll remember."

After Friday's 7 p.m. meet against Arizona State on SEC Network+, the No. 7 Tigers will head to Little Rock next week for the SEC Championships, with NCAA Regionals and, they hope, NCAA Championships to follow.

But for a few moments on Friday, there will be time to celebrate a class that has helped Auburn become a Top 10 team.

"I guarantee we wouldn't be where we are without what they've done for this program," Graba said.

Among their accomplishments: reaching the Super Six in 2015 for the first time in 22 years, beating Alabama and winning at Georgia.

"I think this class is going to go down as one of the most successful classes that we could have had," Graba said.

Demers was the first to arrive, redshirting in 2012.

"When Lexus actually committed, I think we were ranked in the 20s at some point," Graba said. "It just says a lot that we've come this far. And it's through her leadership and the other girls' leadership."

"I'll be able to look back at that and say, `We really did something good,'" said Demers, who realized Auburn had arrived when the Tigers were one of four teams to compete in the evening session last year in the hyper-competitive SEC Championships.

"In our meeting the night before, Jeff told us, `Oh, by the way, you're in the night session,'" Demers said. "And that's when the three of us juniors looked at each other and said, `Oh my gosh, we did it.' That was a huge accomplishment for us to be up there with the big dogs, and that was kind of the stepping stone point where we thought, `We're a team. We're coming. We're climbing up that ladder. We're here to play.'"

Atkinson followed in 2013 and has been an All-American since her freshman year. She holds Auburn's all-around record, a 39.750.

"Her impact is pretty easy to look at when you look at the records that she's set," Graba said.

"It's something special to see the growth and to be part of that and be part of the change of this program," Atkinson said. "To really help turn this program around and build it up. And that's what we've started to do. Even when we're gone, I hope that we've set the tone for it to continue to go up. I think we really have."

Kluz, a steady performer since her freshman year, contributes on vault, bars and floor.

"We're not where we are without what Kait brings to the table," Graba said.

"Just being able to look back at things that we've done thus far, just really look forward to what we have to come," Kluz said. "It's really exciting for us and really tremendous."

For the seniors, the challenge will be to manage the emotions and be ready to compete when, as Demers put it, "the lights come back on and the sad music stops playing."

"They're going to be pretty frustrated if they let the emotion take over too much, and they end up with their last meet in Auburn Arena being a bad performance," Graba said. "They want to make sure that they go out the right way, and our team wants to look back on it as sending them off with a good performance."

"I think it's going to be exciting to put on that show for them," Atkinson said. "Because that's what it is. It's our last showing at Auburn Arena. We want to make it spectacular."

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



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