Tigers were cheering on their teammates at the NCAA Regional in Auburn
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. -- Caitlin Atkinson and Bri Guy know a little something about the NCAA gymnastics championships.
They competed in 2013, as individuals, but this week, they'll get to compete with their teammates. Auburn, the team, is headed to the NCAA Championships that begin Friday in Fort Worth, and coach Jeff Graba says that will be a new experience for everyone, including Atkinson and Guy.
Competing as a team makes it more fun, and easier, he said. Competing as individual is not what the gymnasts want.
"I's not nearly as good an experience as going with your team, for the coaches or the athletes," Graba said. "It's an honor and it's tremendous privilege, but going with your team is a special thing. You invest your whole year with your teammates and friends. At the end, it's a real letdown if they don't get to go and do the meet with you. Not only do you deal with that emotional issue, you also deal with it as a completely different dynamic as an individual. It's harder to coach, it's a lot more difficult to get the girl motivated because it's something they have not done all year. In fact, it's something they're not really good at it anymore... they're really good at being a team member."
Atkinson said her trip to the 2013 championship "was great."
"But my team wasn't there. I'm real excited to share this experience with my team."
Auburn hasn't been to the championships since 2003. These Tigers figure they're ready this time after qualifying for the SEC Championship night session, after finishing second at the NCAA Regional they hosted, after locking down a Top 10 ranking heading into the man event.
A long season that included competing against the four other SEC teams in the nationals -- Florida, LSU, Alabama and Georgia -- hardened the Tigers to tougher meets.
"The SEC ended up with all of our members ended up in the Top 25, which is a statement how tough the league is," Graba said. "I do think it prepares us really well. You don't really get a week off. It's great environments at home and on the road. I think it says something about what we do for 2½ months to get ready for these last few meets. I think it prepares us for these top-end championship meets. I think the SEC is in a really good spot right now, and it's only getting better."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine