Dec. 4, 2013
All-American Caitlin Atkinson is back for her season season at Auburn (Anthony Hall photo)
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. -- Coach Jeff Graba likes what he sees in his Auburn gymnastics team, and he wants others to see it, too.
Auburn will finish its pre-finals practice schedule Thursday night at 6 with its 2014 Preview Meet in Auburn Arena. Admission is free, season tickets will be sold, autographs will be signed -- and Graba will debut a team that features veterans and freshmen who will be thrown in the rotation early.
"Our girls are in a really good spot," Graba said. "We've been routine-prepared for a month now."
The fall scouting report: "We don't have as much depth this year, but we have more talent," Graba said.
Graba said he's seen a difference in now, his fourth season at Auburn.
"The team showed up with our full system in order, so the only thing left was to train the freshmen. Two years ago, it was trying to teach them the system. Last year, it was trying to move the system a little bit further along so we could be more competitive. This year, we feel like we've instituted the system. We've been ready earlier."
Auburn will split in to two squads for the 6 p.m. meet.
"The reason for the preview meet is two-fold," Graba said. "One, is for our fans, to give them a chance to see us. From our standpoint, it's for our girls to get use to the equipment. We'll have six girls who haven't been on the equipment there, and some girls who only hit it once or twice last year.
"As coaches, it's about getting on the equipment so that our first home meet isn't an away meet for us."
It'll be new for the five freshmen, but Auburn has experience with sophomore Caitlin Atkinson, an All-American and the team MVP last season along with veterans such as Megan Walker, Bri Guy and Kait Kluz. The Tigers have to replace three who contributed last year in Petrina Yokay, Toi Garcia and Abbey Habicht.
"Our freshmen are going to play a big role this year," Graba said. "It's a really talented group, so they should be able to do that just fine for us."
Two of Auburn's newcomers were national champions last year. Kullen Hlawek won national honors in the floor. Graba says she'll likely compete three events for Auburn. Mary Jane Rott was the national champion in the beam. She may compete all-around as well.
The five-meet home schedule features Florida, Georgia and Alabama. Auburn opens the season at home against Texas Woman's University on Jan. 10.
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine