AUBURN, Ala. (WRBL) — The Auburn women’s gymnastics team may have Olympic Gold Medalist Sunisa Lee in their tool kit, but the success around their season and the hype it’s brought can be credited to so much more than Lee’s addition to the team.
Senior Gymnast and consistent key player for Auburn Gymnastics, senior Derrian Gobourne, credits a shift in mindset for their success.
“We’ve just been grinding,” said Gobourne. “No matter what, no matter if we’re sick, tired. We’ve just had this mindset, we want to grind. And it’s grit, and it’s hard work and being tough. We’ve just switched our mind set. We want to win.”
She says this winning mentality didn’t come on it’s own. Gobourne shared a defining moment where she told her teammates to stop holding themselves back from their destiny.
“I feel like people were kind of scared to step into being something more,” said Gobourne. “And I remember one day at practice I just stepped in front and I was like we can not be afraid to win. We have the potential, we have everything it takes and so I feel like we just stepped into that and we’ve been unstoppable.”
Unstoppable they are, Gobourne included. Her now-viral floor routine against University of Florida last Friday earned her shout outs from celebrities like Missy Elliot, in addition to earning her a perfect 10—a score she has been chasing for quite sometime.
Another veteran Auburn gymnast demonstrating the grit and grind mindset of this team is junior gymnast Cassie Stevens.
After struggling with her Yurchenko 1.5 on and off during practice, Stevens brought this 10.0 start value vault back to Neville arena for the first time this season in hopes of helping her team during their meet against University of Florida on March 4th.
“Yeah I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t even trying to stick it or anything,” said Stevens. “I was just trying to make it, do it all for my team. And the fact that, that time, that night was just extra rewarding. And like, I feel like it helped the team in a new kind of way.”
The veterans aren’t the only ones experiencing this new mindset and putting on show-stopping performances.
Freshman Sophia Groth has been a breakout star for Auburn gymnastics, earning SEC Freshman of the week following her performances against University of Florida and their quad-meet against Georgia, Alabama and Arkansas.
Groth said besides collegiate gymnastics being a team-oriented sport, unlike club gymnastics, there’s one big difference between the two.
“It’s definitely the environment that is the biggest change and adjustment,” said Groth. “And so, a lot of the times people can crack under the pressure because there’s a lot more eyes on you. But I think I’ve just been trying to embrace that.”
Embrace it, something Head Coach Jeff Graba said is all these athletes can do when it comes to the extra attention.
“Every place that we’ve gone has sold out or had a record crowd and also scoring and all that other stuff,” said Graba. “And at home we’ve had record setting crowds every night. They have to deal with it. There’s just no way to run from it.”
So what’s changed—besides the winning mentality—to give this team the historic season it’s had?
“Our athletes and our staff have increased our standards,” said Graba. “And I think sometimes that’s what the overall secret is. When they’re holding each other to high standards when they come into the gym, good things happen in meets.”
And good things have been happening for this history-making team, something Graba said is a long time coming.
“We’re just an extension of what we were for the last few years, we’re just better,” said Graba. “And to me it’s a little bit of a relief to see that it’s paying off, to see that everybody is recognizing how far we’ve climbed.”
According to stats posted by Auburn University, the Tigers have competed in front of 9,121 fans at all five home meets, meaning a total of 45,605 fans have come to see the tigers in Neville Arena this season.
“The excitement around this team and the support of the community has just been insane to watch,” said Graba. “And I mean, I’ve heard from our broadcasts that the rumor is that we’ve got one of the best college atmospheres in the country and I really believe that. And I’m just excited for the city of Auburn, the university and our program that it’s about us.”
The team also saw record-breaking numbers for student attendance, averaging more than 1400 students per meet.
The #5-ranked Auburn will take on #3 Michigan in a tri-meet with West Virginia March 12 at 3 p.m. they’re looking to secure their spot in the top five heading into the postseason.