Just over four years ago, Derrian Gobourne stepped onto the national stage for the first time as a freshman.
"When I first went to nationals by myself like I was so scared I just felt like I made myself so small when I didn't have to. I was just as good as the other girls and it showed," Gobourne said. "So I feel like going into this nationals I know that I can win, I know that, whether I win or get third, like I'm just as good as everybody."
Gobourne has certainly shown that in her five seasons on the Plains, already becoming the most decorated gymnast in program history, and scoring a perfect 10 on floor, the same event that she is competing in at the national championship.
The gymnast affectionately referred to as "The Queen" is back in Fort Worth for her finale, and it's a bittersweet moment for the fifth-year senior. Gobourne qualified for the event after scoring a 9.925 on floor in the second round of the Los Angeles Regional, but Auburn as a team finished fourth and was unable to repeat last season's run to the Final Four.
"It's kind of like bittersweet because I didn't want to go by myself. That was like the one thing I didn't want to do. I was like, if my team is not going, I really don't want to go," Gobourne said. "I'm ready for this one last push, and I'm ready to just leave this program better than I found it."
Gobourne's final season may not have gone as planned, but she was still an All-SEC selection, a WCGA All-American and the SEC Specialist of the Year for the third season in a row. For head coach Jeff Graba, he sees a trip to nationals as a chance to celebrate the gymnast that helped put Auburn on the map.
"We need to go celebrate a great career we need to go celebrate that she came to Auburn, put us, you know, moved us up the map," Graba said. "We were known before, but we weren't a fixture. And now, people expect us to be great and she's a big part of the reason they expect us to be great."
Graba started recruiting Gobourne when she was in the ninth grade, and he sees this as the culmination of everything Gobourne has accomplished in her time with the Tigers.
"It is an opportunity to, you know, sort of finish it the way you started it," Graba said. "It's a great full circle to her career, come back a fifth year and have the opportunity to go back and do probably her favorite event at the National Championship and you know, attempt to win another national championship."
Derrian will be competing in the event she has become known for, the floor, and her routine this year has paid tribute to Fisk University, the first HBCU to compete in NCAA women's gymnastics. She will get to perform that routine one last time and has expressed gratitude to Graba and his staff for allowing her to be herself on the floor and in every aspect of her student-athlete career.
"When I came to Auburn, Jeff really accepted me, you know, just for who I am. And he never tried to change me. He never tried to mold me into, you know, something that I wasn't," Gobourne said. "I feel like that I'll always remember that. And that was something that was so special to me because he didn't try to change me. He allowed me to be this big, bold personality. And I'm just really grateful."
The first national champion in program history has one more chance to make history and become a two-time national champ when the nationals begin in Fort Worth Texas on Thursday.
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