With the pre-season winding down and winter break coming up, Auburn gymnastics is gearing up for the exciting season that lies ahead.
On Monday, Dec. 1, the Tigers held their third annual preview meet to prepare for competition season. This year’s meet was set up differently than years past, however, but the goals were similar. The goals were for the girls to get out on the competition floor and throw as many of the skills they hope to compete as possible and to get accustomed to the equipment.
“This year we had teams set up differently, we wanted the girls who could possibly compete on that event to compete,” head coach Jeff Graba said. “So at a home meet the girls start on vault, and the girls who could compete on vault would start on vault, but not necessarily rotate in Olympic order.”
The girls also needed to get accustomed to the arena and competing in front of a crowd, instead of just in the gym. The coaches weren’t concerned with hit ratios focused on seeing how each girl operated under pressure.
Senior Megan Walker believes the preview meet served it purpose of getting out in front of the fans and testing new skills in the arena.
“It was nice to be back in the arena,” Walker said. “We went out there and reminded ourselves we have the ability to be a great team.”
Graba also agreed the meet served it purpose and it was predictable, which is good. He could see improvements from the girls, but when nerves popped up old bad habits creped back in.
“The upperclassmen who have been there before went out and tried to improve upon last years routines,” Graba said. “But we never really know if the training in practice will transfer over to a meet until we are in the meet.”
Freshmen Sarah Garcia experienced her first preview meet this year alongside her fellow freshmen; Abby Milliet, Blake Jones, Brooke Bray, Cara Stricklin and Kennedy Finister. She wasn’t as nervous as should thought she would be, but the nerves were still there
“I didn’t get nervous on bars until I was doing my last skill,” Garcia said. “I got to the high bar in my handstand and thought ‘I better make it to my feet’.”
Graba believes after the preview meet, the girls are now going into this season more confident and prepared. The girls hit more routines at the preview and showed fans, and themselves, that all their hard work during pre-season is paying off.
“Practices at this point are mundane,” Walker said. “Which is a good thing because that means we are doing our job and getting comfortable and confident with our routines.”
Boring practices are actually a good thing according to Graba and the girls. Boring means predictable and that is good for gymnastics. The girls and coaches know strengths and weaknesses of the team and at practice they can concentrate on improving even more on strengths and minimizing weaknesses. This also means working on the little things.
“We have to perfect pointing our toes and our landings,” Garcia. “This helps us get back any tenths we can and that can help us get better scores.”
The little things like landings and finishes can make or break a team and can decide if a team will make it to Nationals or not. So the girls have been perfecting every little thing to put them in the best position to make it to nationals.
“We are focusing on landings, presentation and finesse,” Walker said. “We want to get every little tenth back that we can because that is what separates the good from the great.”
With the team only loosing one gymnast last year and gaining six, the team has more depth this year. But the returners weren’t going to just sit back and rely on the freshmen. Each girl that competed last year has improved on at least one thing to help the team.
“We are a better team this year because the girls have all gotten better on something weather that be big or little,” Graba said. “Each girl wants to make themselves an option on at least one event.”
Even the girls on the team agree with Graba. They know they still have more work to do, but all their hard work during pre-season is definitely paying off with more sticks at this years’ preview meet than before.
“I may be a bit biased, but the senior class stands out in my mind,” Walker said. “We know this is our last year to make a mark on this program so we want to do everything we can to make this team better.”
No competition season is a cakewalk for any team in the SEC, and the Auburn tigers are no exception. The second meet of the year the tigers face defending national champions, the Florida gators, in the first live SEC broadcast meet of the year. And that is just the beginning of the season. Once March rolls around the schedule kicks up a notch. With an away meet Friday, March 6 the tigers then fly to Birmingham, Ala. to compete against Alabama Sunday, March 8 then the tiger face North Carolina at home Friday, March 13 and then the next Friday the tigers go to the SEC championship meet.
“The month of March will be a hard month since we have some many meets in such a short time,” Garcia said. “SECs will also be difficult since there are so many teams.”
There are many exciting things to look forward to this season for the tigers. From new routines to new girls there are quite a few reasons to see the tigers live in action at the Auburn Arena.
“Every year we have beat more and more records so I am excited to see how much we can live up to our potential again this year,” Graba said. “I’m excited to see how high we can push the bar this year.”