By Jeff Shearer
One look inside the gymnastics practice facility at Auburn’s McWhorter Center for Women’s Athletics, and you’d never know it’s Spring Break.
More like, business as usual.
“He’s like, ‘Game Face. We’ve got SECs,’” Demers said.
“It’s tough when you see everyone else going on spring break and having fun and they’re out in the sun, and you’re in the gym, all day, every day, with rehab, treatment and regular practice,” she said. “It seems unfair at times, but on the other hand, you’re a division-one athlete, so you’ve got to put your priorities right.”
“These girls have sacrificed everything to be in this sport,” Graba said. “They didn’t go home and have the same Christmas breaks, and the same summer breaks. It’s just the nature of this sport. A lot of ways, I think they take pride in the fact that they’re still here working when everybody else is out playing around. But I can’t mask the fact that it’s a nice day out and they’re stuck in a gym. We have goals, we have priorities, and these girls are usually pretty good about that.”
This week, Auburn’s priority is Saturday’s SEC Championships in North Little Rock.
“The goal is to settle down and do what we can do, and not get ahead of ourselves,” he said. “We’ve already beaten people in that meet by doing a good job and doing Auburn gymnastics.”
For the second straight year, No. 6 Auburn qualified for the evening session.
“We take a lot of pride in that,” Graba said. “I think the girls felt they needed to do that to validate last year and prove that this year, we’re a really quality team.”
Auburn’s reward? Competing against three of the four highest ranked teams in the country: No. 2 LSU, No. 3 Florida and No. 4 Alabama.
Graba says, statistically speaking, the SEC’s evening session is more competitive than last year’s NCAA Super Six.
“The average ranking of the four teams is around 3-and-a-half,” he said. “For some perspective, last year, our national championship night, the Super Six night, the average ranking was ninth in the country. So this is two or three times more difficult on paper than winning the national championship. That’s how hard the SEC is.
“It’s difficult to compete in this league,” Graba said. “We get to go against the very best.”
It’s a challenge Auburn’s gymnasts embrace.
— Jeff Shearer (@jeff_shearer) March 16, 2016
“I’m ecstatic for this team and where we’re headed,” Demers said. “We have high expectations for ourselves, but at the end of the day, we’re going to be realistic going into it saying, ‘Hey, we’re here to have fun. We’re here to do gymnastics and get ready for regionals and nationals.’”
And if the Tigers could knock off three higher-ranked teams and emerge as SEC champions, those afternoons in the gym instead of the pool will seem like a small price to pay.
— Jeff Shearer (@jeff_shearer) March 15, 2016
“It would mean a lot,” junior Kullen Hlawek said. “It would validate that last year wasn’t really a fluke, that we’ve been really moving up and working hard. We’re still focusing on having fun and doing the gymnastics we know how to do and putting it all together.”
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer