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'We belong...' Auburn gymnastics ready for run in NCAAs
April 14, 2016

Auburn's Kullen Hlawek warms up for the NCAA Gymnastics Championships
Auburn's Kullen Hlawek warms up for the NCAA Gymnastics Championships

By Charles Goldberg

FORT WORTH, Texas ― Freshman Taylor Krippner received some good advice from her now-experienced NCAA Super Six teammates about competing in the gymnastics' national championships.

"They said it's going to be the most fun you'll have this season," Krippner said. "Be natural. Be yourself. And don't think about it as the national championships. Think of it as any other meet."

And that's what Auburn will try to do in its second straight trip to the NCAA gymnastics championships at the Fort Worth Convention Center Arena this weekend. Auburn and five other teams will begin the competition Friday at 1 p.m. on ESPNU. Six other teams will compete in a second session Friday night. The top three teams in each session will advance to Saturday night's prestigious Super Six.

Auburn made it to the Super Six last season, and the Tigers arrived for Thursday's practice session feeling like veterans to college gymnastics' biggest show.

"It's different this year, but it's just as exciting," said senior Kait Kluz. "We've been focused on it all year trying to prove we could make it back here, and that we're that good. Now, it's about letting loose and having fun. I think we're going to have a great time."

Auburn's been on a roll, making to its first Super Six last season, earning its best qualifying score at the end of this regular season and winning its first No. 1 seed at an NCAA regional. The Tigers and Stanford tied for the top spot in the Ann Arbor Regional, sending the Tigers to Fort Worth in the NCAA Championships that will have a decidedly SEC flavor. Auburn will compete against familiar opponents Florida, Georgia and LSU, plus Minnesota and Stanford, in the afternoon session. Alabama is in the night session with Utah, Nebraska, Oklahoma, UCLA and California. 

Coach Jeff Graba hopes that's the case after a long season that showed college gymnastics that Auburn's arrival last season was not a fluke.

"It's rewarding to make it back and start being in this conversation of making it every year," Graba said. "But I also think it's sinking in with the girls that they feel like they belong here. Last year, it was a wonderful thing to be here, but nobody felt like they belonged here. They were just excited to be here. I think it's sinking in that we do belong.

"I hope they have a good weekend. They deserved it."

The big prize, aside from the national championship, is making it to Saturday night and the Super Six. Graba says he's talked about that with his team because "we can't hide from it."

"I know it's been one of the things they want to accomplish, and that's what we want as a staff. We made it last year, and that's the burden you carry ― you want to get back to the pinnacle."

The entire meet will be televised live for the first time. ESPNU will start its coverage with Friday's first session with Auburn. Graba said that will carry his sport even farther.

"It's everything," he said. "I think the SEC Network has revolutionized college gymnastics. I think the fact they're taking what they know from the SEC Network and are willing to build on it during the national championships is unbelievably good for gymnastics. We're going from every four years, when the whole country is interested in this sport because of the Olympics, to every year. That's great."

Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at Follow him on Twitter:


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