The No. 13 Auburn gymnastics team will jump right into the frying pan Friday when it open its home slate against rival SEC foe, No. 10-ranked Alabama.
The Tigers opened the season last weekend with a third-place finish in the College Challenge in Anaheim, California, that pitted them against seven teams ranked in the Top 25, including No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 2 UCLA and No. 5 Denver. The Tigers finished with a score of 194.375.
"We got a really good first glimpse out in California with a bunch of high-ranked teams, but it wasn’t an environment like the SEC," said Auburn coach Jeff Graba, who added that the meet pretty much went according to plan. "We got everybody in we needed to get in.
"I was little bit frustrated because some of the mistakes we made were predictable and we were hoping to get some of that behind us. But I was also encouraged a lot because some of the young people actually did significantly better than we had hoped. So we got a lot of things out of the way, and I do think that it’s pretty bright looking forward."
Graba typically uses the month of January to experiment with lineups on rotations. The Tigers used the first meet quite a bit more than usual to get more gymnasts on the floor.
"We started it intentionally not having an all-around so we could get more opportunities to more people," he said. "For the most part, it worked out. We didn’t really make any major mistakes. But we don’t get that luxury now; we get right into the meat of the schedule."
The Tigers will host a Tide team on Friday that hasn't competed yet this season. Senior Gracie Day said she would tell the Tigers' seven freshmen to just enjoy competing in their first home meet against Alabama.
"Honestly, enjoy it because it does go by really fast," she said. "The first time in front of a home crowd is really exciting. But it being my last first time in front of a home crowd, it’s a tad bit emotional but I’m just excited to be back in front of the home crowd."
Graba also cited the home crowd as an advantage for the Tigers, although he said the team is just trying not to get ahead of themselves.
"I’m trying to get the girls to understand it’s a long season," he said. "We have to stay healthy; we have to get better each week; and in reality it’s hard to compete on this team as it is to compete against the other team. It’s better for them to just look over their shoulder at the person they’re trying to beat out rather than the team across the floor."
The Tigers and Tide will meet at 8 p.m. Friday in Auburn Arena. The matchup will be televised on the SEC Network.