Auburn has already made the trip to Duluth for the SEC Championships, and as the Tigers prepare for their afternoon class with three of the top eight SEC teams, they will be without Suni Lee, the team announced on Thursday.
Lee has been out for the past three meets due to a non-gymnastics-related health issue, with no clear timetable for her return. Auburn competed in the regular season finale without the Olympian, and the Tigers soared to a solid 197.6, raising their NQS slightly and showing their potential even with the high scoring Lee out of the lineup. Saturday presents another opportunity to build on that momentum.
“Saturday is a great opportunity to get started on the right foot in the postseason,” said Auburn head coach Jeff Graba. “The SEC is the premier conference in the country and we get to match up against the top teams in our sport. All league teams are ranked in the top 20 so we need to be on our game, stay in the bubble and stay focused.”
Staying in the bubble has been a recurring message from Graba this season, and to do that again he will turn to a talented senior class that looks to make more history this year. The trio of Derrian Gobourne, Cassie Stevens and Aria Brusch has been vital to Auburn’s success over the past few years, and that will likely continue on Saturday. Gobourne is a national runner up on bars and floor, a champion on vault, and she has excelled this year with 9.9+ scores in all three events.
Stevens was recently named SEC Gymnastics Scholar-Athlete of the Year, the program’s seventh all time, and she has matched that success in the classroom with stellar performances at every meet, including six all-around scores of 39.500 or higher.
Brusch had been working her way back from shoulder surgery throughout the season, and the senior just hit her stride with a trio of 9.9s in the senior day meet against Penn State.
The Tigers will compete in Session 1 of the SEC Championship as the No. 5 seed, facing off with Arkansas, Georgia and Missouri. The Tigers are currently ranked No. 12 in the NQS rankings, with Arkansas, Georgia and Missouri at 16, 17 and 18, respectively.
With the SEC Championship counting as a road meet, this will be another opportunity for Auburn to raise its NQS.
“This is the final road meet and final opportunity to change our NQS,” Graba said. “Good performances bring good score so we're just looking for good performances on Saturday. Scores will take care of themselves.”
A “good score” for the Tigers will have to be over a 197.2 as the team prepares for NCAA Tournament competition.
As the highest seed in Session 1, Auburn will have the advantage of going through the rotations as if the meet were in Neville Arena, with the Tigers starting on floor and ending on vault.
Despite not competing against the top four teams in the conference, the SEC Championship scoring is unrelated to session, and if Auburn ends the day with the highest score out of the eight teams that compete, it will be taking home its first SEC Championship.
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