DULUTH, Ga. – The Auburn Tigers made the short trip to Duluth, Georgia, to compete in the SEC Championship Saturday. Throughout the meet, in front of a packed house, one name stood above the rest, Auburn’s Cassie Stevens.
Stevens put together an all-around performance that was good enough to top the first session. The senior started out strong with a 9.950 on vault before scoring three straight 9.900s in route to an all-around score of 39.650.
“I was just happy to do it for my team,” Stevens said. “Knowing we had some bumps and bruises along the way, I just wanted to do it for them and I wanted it for us. We’ve worked so hard, and we’ve been through a lot this season. We’re ready for the hard work to pay off and just to be able to do this and step up in these moments for my team was really rewarding.”
The Arizona native’s vault score was good for a session best and would only be matched by Gabby Gladieux of Alabama and Sloane Blakely of Florida in the later session, giving Stevens a share of the top spot in the event.
Suni Lee was not competing for the Tigers, missing her third straight meet after suffering non-gymnastics related injury. Despite this, Lee was still cheering loud and giving all her teammates her full support throughout the meet.
Although Lee’s presence was felt through cheering on teammates, it was greatly missed performing the events.
The Tigers would only be able to score 197.100, finishing fifth overall in the championship, however, good enough to secure the top spot in the first session.
“We won our session and got some big scores from the senior leaders on the team,” Auburn head coach Jeff Graba said. “I felt that for the most part, the team did a good job of picking each other up and getting through the meet. We talked a lot about how that is what it takes to get through the postseason. You’re going to have adversity and you have to conquer it. I really feel like we did a good job with that today.”
In addition to the midtable finish, Auburn was unable to raise its NQS after scoring just under where it needed to be, as the Tigers will be forced to finish with an NQS of 197.480 ahead of the NCAA Regionals.
There were a few key mistakes that cost Auburn valuable points in the meet.
Sophia Groth did not put together a performance that is near her best. After battling back from injury early in the year, the sophomore put together a strong run of meets near the end of the regular season.
Today would be a different story, as Groth would fall off the bars resulting in a 9.150, which ultimately was dropped. Groth would once again struggle on the floor routine, coming up short on one of her passes, resulting in another score deduction.
A bright spot for Auburn was Aria Brusch was able to put together a 9.900 on bars, in addition to Stevens and Derrian Gobourne, to wipe away Groth’s score. Brusch has been a key factor for the Tigers since coming back from injury and continues to see her role in the squad grow.
The steadiness of Derrion Gobourne proved crucial to the result Auburn had, as the Florida native was arguably the most consistent on the night after Stevens. Gobourne would start off with a 9.875 on vault before going on to match the 9.900 scores set on bars by Stevens and Brusch. Finally, the fifth-year senior would cap off the session with a 9.850 on floor.
Auburn will now turn its attention to the NCAA Regional Championship, which is set for March 30-to-April 1, depending on where the Tigers land.