Drew Watson

After splitting closing the regular season with a win over Air Force to rebound from two-straight losses to Alabama, the Auburn gymnastics team will now turn its attention to the SEC championship on Saturday in New Orleans, where the Tigers will compete in the afternoon session.

The Tigers are looking to peak at the right time after defeating Air Force 196.825 to 193.275, which puts them at No. 12 in the country with a regional qualifying score of 196.695.

And while the thought of post-season play can be daunting, the Tigers are focused on treating it just like any other meet.

“I think the problem with this team is they trip themselves up every once in a while when they want to be really good and maybe put the cart ahead of the horse a little bit. We’re just trying to remind them that the way to go about things is to focus on what we can control and to basically duplicate practice in the meet,” said Auburn head coach Jeff Graba.

After a disappointing 2-7 campaign in 2018, the Tigers know that this year’s 8-3 squad is much more capable than in the past.

“I think we’re a lot further along (from last year). We know what the recipe is. We know, we’ve done it multiple times. We just need to be more confident and that’ll get us to where we need to be,” sophomore Drew Watson said.

Auburn’s strong performance against Air Force marks the second-highest score the Tigers have earned this season — as a result, it has infused the gymnasts with confidence going into SEC’s. And although the 2019 is one of the best in the last few years, gymnasts like junior Emma Slappey are focused on staying on point.

“I think that was a really big moment for us — especially leading up to SEC’s. We were on podium the week before and had a really good meet at Elevate and I feel like since we continued that and hit another good week that it should put us in a good spot for SEC’s,” she said.  “We’re really just focused on ourselves and staying in our bubble. Abby (Milliet) always says that we’re against the biggest competition which is ourselves because we’re the best team in the country.”

Despite losing back-to-back meets against Alabama, Graba has led the Tigers to a top-15 ranking as well as a 5-0 record in Auburn Arena. Graba knows his squad is talented and heading into the season’s final stretch, he’s confident in their ability to perform.

“The last two meets I feel like the team has gelled. I understand individuals are frustrated with their personal performances, but the team has done a good job of supporting each other, building off of routines, trying to gain momentum in a meet — those are the things you have to be able to control when you’re in a meet like this,’ he said. “The recipe is to stay focused on what we can do and to trust our training and trust our approach and if the last two meets are an indicator, we’re in a pretty good spot.”

The sixth-seeded Tigers will compete in the afternoon session on Saturday along with Alabama, Arkansas and Missouri, starting at 3 p.m.. The session will be carried live on the SEC Network. The evening session, featuring LSU, Kentucky, Georgia and Florida, starts at 7 p.m. and will be televised on ESPN2.

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