ANN ARBOR, Mich. (Auburn University Athletics)– The No. 6 Auburn gymnastics team advanced to the NCAA Championship for the second straight year after the Tigers finished tied for first with a 196.525 in the NCAA Ann Arbor Regional Saturday in the Crisler Center on the campus of the University of Michigan.
“I thought the team did a really good job with handling the pressure tonight,” head coach Jeff Graba said. “There was a handful of early hiccups to start, but I thought we did really well at the end and cranked out some good routines. To make nationals for the second year in a row solidifies the fact that we are a contender to advance to the national championship every year.”
The Tigers advance to the NCAA Championship for the fifth time in program history. This marks the first time the team has reached back-to-back championships.
Auburn and Stanford finished tied for first with a 196.525 and the Tigers will advance as a top seed after the tie break. The regional win is the first in program history. Host Michigan came in third with a 196.475. Eastern Michigan was fourth at 196.250, Penn State fifth at 195.125 and New Hampshire closed it out with a 193.900.
“To have this opportunity is incredible,” redshirt senior Lexus Demers said. “We’re going to go to nationals with our heads held high and prove to everyone that we deserve to be back there.”
Highlighting the night was the team’s performance in the fifth rotation on floor. Following its second bye, Auburn put together a 49.400 and were led by its three seniors: Kait Kluz, Demers and Caitlin Atkinson. The trio finished tied for first overall as each earned a 9.900. Junior MJ Rott and sophomore Abby Milliet chipped in a pair of 9.85s for the Tigers.
“I believe the team was feeling the stress on the first two events,” Graba said. “The second bye was really good for us. We were able to go back and regroup. I knew we were confident and comfortable on floor. I think the team came out with a purpose to really turn it on. They knew they were capable of making it to nationals with the two events at the end.”
After a first round bye to start the night, Auburn opened with a 49.125 on bars. A trio of Tigers in Kluz, Milliet and freshman Taylor Krippner led the way with a 9.850 each. Senior Caitlin Atkinson added a 9.8, while freshman Samantha Cerio led off the rotation with a 9.775.
The Tigers headed to beam next and totaled a 48.850. Demers finished tied for third overall in the meet with a 9.875 to lead the Orange and Blue. Atkinson added a 9.8 and Milliet followed with a 9.750. Cerio finished her night with a 9.725 on the apparatus and junior Kullen Hlawek made her regional debut with a 9.7.
Auburn closed out the meet on vault with a 49.150 and were led by Rott’s 9.9. Her score gave her first in the event. Atkinson and Demers chipped in a pair of 9.85s, while Krippner earned a 9.800. Sophomore Sarah Garcia and Kluz each totaled a 9.750 for the Tigers.
Atkinson finished the all-around in fifth with a 39.350.
The 2016 NCAA Gymnastics Championship is April 15-16 in Fort Worth, Texas, at the Fort Worth Convention Center. For tickets and information on the NCAA Championship, visit NCAA.com.