Tiger Gymnasts Climb To No. 18 Following Tuscaloosa Regional
April 4, 2011
AUBURN - At the Tuscaloosa NCAA Regional on April 2, the Auburn gymnastics team (9-14, 2-4 SEC) came within three tenths of a point of finishing as one of the top two teams and earning a spot in the NCAA Championship, but the Tigers settled for fourth in perhaps the team's best meet of the season.
The Tigers still had hopes of a second-place finish after posting a total score of 195.600 after five rotations and waiting out a bye in the sixth and final rotation. But No. 14 Illinois scored a 49.075 on beam to finish second with a score of 195.925, while No. 11 Penn State's score of 49.125 on bars pushed them to third with a score of 195.850.
"I thought the meet went as good as it could go for us," Auburn head coach Jeff Graba said. "We probably had one of our sharper meets of the year, and we did it at the toughest meet of the year so I thought that was good. We came within three tenths of going to nationals, and we came within three tenths of the No. 11 and No. 14 teams so I feel like that means we are competitive at the level. I think all things considered that is probably as good as we were capable of doing."
Auburn also finished behind No. 1 Alabama (197.275) and ahead of No. 23 Central Michigan (195.075) and No. 25 Kentucky (195.175), but Graba felt that the Tigers possibly had their best meet of the season.
"We went 23-for-24 and everybody helped the team in some way," Graba said. "We felt like we were very consistent. We were as sharp or sharper than we have been most of the year, and again we did it at the end when we were as healthy and as sharp as we've been all year. I feel like we peaked at the right time and that's what we were trying to accomplish.
"Typically this team has fallen apart at regionals. They have let the pressure get to them, and this year we did as good as we possibly do. I feel like that is something we can build on for next year. We've finished the year as strong as we were all year, and I think that now that the girls know they can do it, we can build on this next year."
The team finished just short of qualifying for the NCAA Championship, which would have been the first time the Tigers have been to a championship since 2003.
"This was the strongest finish this team has had in a while," Graba said. "We are actually ahead of last year's ranking being 18th right now. We only added two routines this year and lost five from last year's squad so I think the fact that it looked like we were going to have a little bit more trouble on paper and we actually improved our ranking says something to the leadership of the group. What I'm hoping is that if we are that good this year and we actually add some more depth next year then that is only going to help us get to our final goal of making national championships every year."
After coming back from an injury at the being of the season, junior Kylie Shields put together an all-around score of 39.250 to qualify for nationals on April 15-17 in Cleveland, Ohio.
"I think it is good for Kylie and it will give her some good experience at that level," Graba said. "Hopefully she can bring that back for next year's squad and be able to help the rest of these girls. That helped us this year having Rachel Inniss' experience from last year at nationals. It helped this year's squad know a little bit more about what it would take to get there. Kylie is going to be able to bring that back as well."
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