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'Everyone's energy is up' - No. 7 Auburn gymnasts at NCAA Nationals
April 13, 2016

<em> Auburn's gymnasts have had much to celebrate in 2016.</em>
Auburn's gymnasts have had much to celebrate in 2016.

By Jeff Shearer

AUBURN, Ala - One by one, they exited the gymnastics facility at McWhorter Center to begin the journey to Texas for NCAA Nationals.

The No. 7 Auburn gymnasts will be seeking the same result on the floor that they've achieved in the classroom the past four years: perfection.

On the day the program received an NCAA Public Recognition Award for ranking in the top 10 percent nationally with a perfect 1000 Academic Progress Rate, the Tigers flew to Fort Worth.

Friday, they'll compete in the afternoon session against Florida, LSU, Georgia, Stanford and Minnesota, hoping to advance to Saturday's Super Six for the second straight year.

"We're going to have to be extremely good," coach Jeff Graba said. "All of these teams are going to have to have their best meet of the year in order to move on to Super Six. So it's about letting it all hang out and have fun, and enjoy the process."

"It would be great to get back to the Super Six," junior Kullen Hlawek said. "But also we're just looking for in prelims night to go all out, have as much fun as possible, and then at the end of the night, if we've made it to Super Six, that's even better."

It will be the final meet for Auburn seniors Caitlin Atkinson, Kait Kluz and Lexus Demers.

"It's the last week of season. We're all a little tired, but I think we're actually excited to go back to Texas," Demers said. "It's definitely an advantage that it's in the same spot, and we kind of know the arena. We know what we're getting into, and I think we have the upper hand that we have the early session as well. Everyone's energy is up. We're all really looking forward to just being out there on the floor."

The Tigers are hoping for the best, preparing as if they will advance to Saturday's Super Six. That means backing off in the gym during practice, so they'll have the stamina to compete on consecutive nights.

"It's more saving your body. A few less numbers in the gym," Hlawek said. "And potentially doing it two days in a row. Working through that in the gym, and making sure we're able to handle that in the gym first and then move it to the meet site."

Just like they've done academically, with those four straight years of APR perfection, the Auburn gymnasts have put in work in the gym, earning the program's first back-to-back NCAA Nationals appearances.

"I like to refer to us a blue-collar team," Graba said. "They like to come in and get their job done, and go home.

"There's not a whole lot of fanfare on this team. When we have fun on Friday and Saturday nights, that isn't really indicative of how they go about their practices. They have fun in here, but they really are pushing hard," he said.

While the Tigers will miss their talented trio of seniors next season, the experience gained by Auburn's underclassmen will benefit the program in 2017 and beyond.

"For me, this is laying the groundwork for the future," Graba said. "This team's just a bunch of fighters, and these freshmen have stepped right up. It's really good for our future, because they all have quite a bit of experience at this point."

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



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