Cassie Stevens walked into the gym in Athens and did something few can do.
The freshman won the all-around title at Auburn’s meet at Georgia last Sunday — stepping into a dreaded hostile environment, the home of the vaunted Bulldogs, and proving her mettle in front of a sellout crowd and in the big moment.
And for the youngster, she’s only trying to climb from here.
Auburn gymnastics hosts Kentucky this Friday at 6 p.m. Auburn Arena, returning to the home fans after Sunday’s visit to Athens. The team put together its best road score of the season then with a 196.350, though the Tigers lost to the perennial powers scoring 197.425.
But among the bright spots for Auburn shined Stevens, who tied her career-high on two events and captured the all-around with a 39.250 in enemy territory.
“That felt really great, just to know that all your hard work in the gym is paying off,” Stevens said on Tuesday. “Definitely, there’s still things to fix, so we focused on that this week — to keep improving each week.”
Stevens laid down a 9.850 on vault to tie of one of her career bests on the second rotation, then hit a 9.825 to match another personal record on the beam to cap the meet. She nailed a 9.775 on bars and a 9.800 on floor.
She bested junior teammate Drew Watson who scored a 39.225, and both of them topped Georgia sophomore all-arounder Rachael Lukacs, who finished with a 38.725 with an apparent stumble on beam dragging down her score.
Friday night’s meet with Kentucky is set to be televised on SEC Network. Auburn will look to rebound especially on floor, after the Tigers hit their second-worst score this season on that event and with a 48.700 dipped below a 49 for the first time since the season-opening meet on the road in California in early January.
“I think that we did really well as a team on three events,” Stevens said Tuesday as the Tigers turned the page to Kentucky. “So I think a takeaway would be, for us, we want to put four together.
“And for me personally, it definitely still left a lot out there, but it was just a great solid performance.”
With her first all-around win under her belt and the confidence that comes with it, Stevens can help Auburn take that next step — starting this weekend against Kentucky.
“I’m still trying to focus on my form — straight legs, pointed toes, and then also landings obviously, because those are just the obvious deductions that if you can fix, you can get a few 10ths better and that helps your team get a few 10ths better,” she said.
The Kentucky meet is the first of back-to-back home meets for Auburn. The Tigers will host Florida on Feb. 14 in Auburn Arena.