Auburn vs. Alabama gymnastics

Drew Watson performs her floor routine during the Alabama meet on Jan. 10 in Auburn Arena. The Tigers go on the road for a meet at LSU tonight. (Sara Palczewski/sarap@oanow.com)

After last week, Auburn has an idea of how good it can be.

But after this week, the team should learn even more about how good it will be.

Auburn travels to LSU for its first true road meet of the season, and in that hostile environment Auburn head coach Jeff Graba expects his Tiger gymnasts to learn a lot about themselves, throwing down scores in an unfriendly setting and trying to repeat a strong performance against another top opponent.

No. 20 Auburn meets No. 7 LSU at 7:30 tonight in Baton Rouge, La., one week after a landmark win for the Tigers over rival Alabama in raucous Auburn Arena.

That win was a big one for the program and its supporters, and Auburn’s scores were solid, but as Graba and his team veterans know, teams learn a lot about themselves when they go on the road. This will be Auburn’s first meet on an opposing team’s home floor after the team experienced a neutral-site setting in a quad in California to start the season before last week’s home meet.

Tonight’s meet at LSU will be televised on SEC Network.

“I think you learn a lot more on the road than you do at home,” Graba said. “We’re not going to compete at Regionals, we’re not going to compete at SEC’s or Nationals, at home — so you’ve got to be a good road team.”

It’s still early in the season and Auburn plans to toy with some skill upgrades that will upgrade score opportunities, and the coaching staff expects to move pieces in the lineup just as it did in the first two meets, but the big question comes in how Auburn reacts to the unfamiliar environment.

Auburn showed high energy and strong focus last Friday in a sold-out Auburn Arena with a venue full of supporters at the team’s back, but now the Tigers are tasked with proving they can replicate those scores even when they aren’t on their home floor.

For seven freshmen on Auburn’s 21-gymnast lineup, this marks a first experience in that situation.

“I think it’s cool to be in the other spot,” Auburn junior Drew Watson said this week of going on the road. “You use the energy how you want it to.

“I think the freshmen did a really, really good job of using the energy in a positive way this past meet, so I think that they can flip it and turn in. When it’s the opposite, I think they can do the same.”

Watson won the all-around in that meet against the Tide, laying down the meet’s best score on vault with a 9.9 before bouncing back from a tough 9.750 bars routine to lay down a 9.875 on beam and another 9.9 on floor.

She laid a foundation while fellow ace Derrian Gobourne won the bars and the floor, and some of those freshmen bolstered the lineups behind them and their fellow veterans.

Ariana Brusch laid down Auburn’s best score among those freshmen, hitting a 9.875 on floor.

“As freshmen we don’t have a lot of experience in arenas — in bigger platforms. Going to LSU, we just want to do better than we did before,” Brusch said.

“From what the upperclassmen have told us, it’s really hostile,” she went on. “But to be honest, we just have to stay in our bubble and keep our good energy in and not let the outside energy get to us.”

After tonight’s meet at LSU, Auburn returns home to Auburn Arena for a home meet with Missouri on Jan. 24.

But first, Auburn’s got a lot to learn, with an opportunity to do some of that on the road this weekend.

“You’re against people on the road. You’re against the environment. You’re against the equipment. You’re against the crowd. All of that stuff,” Graba said. “Which is going to come in handy if we can handle it well.

“And I think the girls need to figure this out themselves. They need to work together. If they do that on the road and have some success with the elements, battling the elements, then I think that we get better immensely, quicker than if we just did it at home.”

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