AUBURN — It was already going to be a big night for the No. 9 Auburn Tigers. Two of the most decorated gymnasts in the history of the program were saying goodbye to Neville Arena, and with a Thursday night press release announcing that Sunisa Lee would miss the meet due to a “non-gymnastics related health issue,” it seemed like Auburn would miss an opportunity to raise its NQS. However, like so many times in this remarkable two-year run, the Tigers delivered again.
Even without Lee, Auburn soared to a 197.600 at home, taking down the Penn State Nittany Lions and ending the regular season with new scores added to the NQS right before the SEC Championship. The Nittany Lions posted their highest score of the season, 197.025.
Auburn started strong on vault, with three 9.8+ scores from the talented underclassmen being bookended by two 9.9s from seniors Cassie Stevens and Derrian Gobourne, and the best was still yet to come for that duo.
Stevens took home another all-around crown, with a complete performance throughout the meet and only one sub-9.9 score on the night. Stevens does possess a fifth-year option, but it remains to be seen if she will opt to come back for the 2024 season.
Gobourne used her fight-year option to return in 2023, and has been on a mission to bring Auburn back to the Final Four. As the first national champion in program history, Gobourne’s accolades are as impressive as any gymnast in program history and she showed why tonight.
Despite the strong vault start, Auburn trailed after the first rotation, but that did not last. The Tigers notched their highest bars score of the season, despite bars national champion Suni Lee out of the lineup. Auburn had four scores of 9.9 and above, including consecutive 9.925s from Stevens and Gobourne once again in the anchor spot to give the team a 49.525 in the event.
On beam, the Tigers needed a bounce-back rotation following last week’s two-fall performance against Kentucky. Auburn got just what it needed, scoring a 49.250 behind a 9.9 from another senior, Aria Brusch and a season-high 9.950 from Gabby McLaughlin. Sophia Groth scored a 9.725 due to a tough landing on the dismount, but the sophomore continues to show progress in her new routine, which suffered the most changes on the team due to rule changes during the offseason.
Then all eyes turned to the floor once again, with Auburn in range of another 197+ score, and the team roared past it. Seniors Brusch and Stevens capped off their nights with a pair of 9.9s, while Groth bounced back with another 9.9 of her own.
While the senior leaders showed up for Auburn, the future looks bright with junior Olivia Hollingsworth placing second in the all-around, and scoring a career-high 9.95 on floor. Hollingsworth scored a 9.850 on beam, 9.875 on bars and a 9.825 on vault.
Then Gobourne wrapped things up with one final routine, scoring a 9.875 and waving goodbye to the place she has called home for five years.
It was a night filled with heartfelt goodbyes, but the Tigers are not done yet. Head coach Jeff Graba and this team have had their sights set on the postseason since before the first meet of the year, and Auburn will face its first postseason battle next weekend as the Tigers head to Duluth for the SEC Championship. The time for the meet is still to-be-announced.
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