Fresh off of being named the SEC Gymnastics Scholar-Athlete of the Year, senior Cassie Stevens did not skip a beat during Session I of Saturday’s SEC Championship meet. Stevens took home the all-around title for Session I with 9.9 or above in all four events, earning her seventh all-around score of 39.500 or above with a 39.650.
Behind Stevens’ efforts, the Tigers scored a 197.100, the highest in Session I and the Tigers first 197+ score away from Neville Arena since the Alabama meet in early February.
“We won our session and got some big scores from the senior leaders on the team,” said Auburn head coach Jeff Graba. “I felt that for the most part, the team did a good job of picking each other up and getting through the meet. We talked a lot about how that is what it takes to get through the postseason. You’re going to have adversity and you have to conquer it. I really feel like we did a good job with that today.”
Florida won the meet overall with a 198.425, led by Trinity Thomas who won the overall all-around title with a 39.8.
Overall, the Tigers placed fifth in Duluth and will await their selection in the NCAA Tournament.
Caroline Leonard was in the lead-off spot on vault, after earning a spot in the lineup during warmups and it was her first time even competing in the event this year. It was a solid start for the sophomore with a 9.8.
“It just shows that you have to be ready when the opportunity arises, and that hard work pays off,” Graba said. “This is what is so fun about postseason. Anything can happen and we’re so proud of how Caroline really stepped up in the moment today.”
Sophia Groth took a step on the next vault, scoring a 9.675, a score that Auburn looked to drop.
Sara Hubbard helped the Tigers bounce back with a 9.875, and Olivia Hollingsworth continued that with a 9.8. The senior leadership stepped up in a big way with a 9.95 from Cassie Stevens, the SEC Gymnastics Scholar-Athlete of the Year and Derrian Gobourne kicked off her afternoon with a 9.875.
That 9.95 from Stevens tied her first score at the SEC Championships, giving her a share of the SEC vault crown.
“I was just happy to do it for my team,” Stevens said. “Knowing we had some bumps and bruises along the way, I just wanted to do it for them and I wanted it for us. We’ve worked so hard, and we’ve been through a lot this season. We’re ready for the hard work to pay off and just to be able to do this and step up in these moments for my team was really rewarding.”
She is only the third Auburn gymnast to win an SEC crown after Becky Erwin won beam in 1994 and Sunisa Lee secured the bars championship in 2022. Stevens also finished third in the all-around and was the only gymnast from Session I to place in the top eight.
In total, a solid start for Auburn with a 49.3 in the event, as the team went to bars.
Hollingsworth started things off on bars with a 9.825 and Gabby McLaughlin had the same score in her first event of the afternoon. Groth fell on her first connection, leading to Auburn’s trio of seniors anchoring the event.
The senior class stepped up for the sophomore and delivered three-straight 9.9s to give the team a 49.350 and remain on pace for raising the NQS.
Missouri started to take control in the meet, but Auburn headed to beam with the NQS in mind. It was a rocky start for the Tigers with Hollingsworth earning a 9.750 and freshman Hannah Hagle receiving a 9.425 after some issues. Aria Brusch added some stability with a 9.8 and then Sophia Groth was up and looking for a much-needed bounceback. The sophomore delivered her best performance in the event this year, scoring a 9.875 and leading right into a pair of 9.9s from Stevens and McLaughlin.
While Auburn stayed consistent on beam, Missouri struggled in vault with three scores of 9.625 or under, giving the Tigers of the Plains the lead going into the final rotation.
Auburn missed on an NQS-improving score, but the Tigers finished floor with a couple of strong scores, including a 9.875 from Hollingsworth, another 9.9 for Stevens and Derrian Gobourne anchoring with a 9.875 of her own.
Now the Tigers will head back home and await their placement in the 2023 NCAA Regional Championship. The selection show airs on March 20 at 11 a.m. CT, with regional hosts of UCLA, Oklahoma, Denver and Pittsburgh already selected. The regional meet will take place on March 30 and April 1.
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