Auburn vs. Florida gymnastics

Auburn's Skyler Sheppard performs on beam during the team's meet against Florida on Feb. 14 in Auburn Arena.

Skyler Sheppard figures there are plenty of athletes out there who can relate.

It’s no different for the gymnastics team. Auburn misfired. The Tigers swung and they missed. Now, they have to get back up, dust themselves off, and move on.

And that’s exactly what they’ll try to do tonight when No. 20 Auburn meets No. 14 Arkansas at 6:30 p.m. on the road in Fayetteville, live on the SEC Network.

Auburn collapsed in several ways last week in its latest meet against No. 2 Florida. The Tigers saw problems compound on problems and tumbled to their second-lowest score of the season.

But Sheppard, Auburn’s confident senior, knows Auburn can be better.

Now they just have to prove it again.

“I think every athlete can stand by that,” Sheppard said this week, as her team worked to recover from an off night. “It’s all about looking forward and being present in the moment and going into practice the next week with a fresh mindset and a clean slate. Whatever happened in the past doesn’t matter and that’s not who we are as Auburn.

“We’ve got great things to come ahead so I’m excited.”

Auburn dipped to a 194.750 against Florida after five straight meets topping 196, nearly bottoming out with its lowest score since the opening meet of the year in California.

So many things that could’ve gone wrong did. Auburn tallied its lowest score of the season on beam, then its second-lowest all year on floor. The tough night was capped by ace floor anchor Derrian Gobourne getting pulled from her spot in the lineup with a nagging foot injury.

But the team has the chance to rectify everything on the road against another top-20 team.

Sheppard says she’s seen bad nights like that plenty of times before in her career — and the bounce-backs that come with them. Fellow senior Emma Slappey said the same. Basketball teams have off shooting nights, baseball teams have hitting slumps, and a sometimes five coinflips all come up tails.

Take Auburn assistant coach Ashley Johnston, who has just about seen it all in the gym. She won medals for Team USA and back-to-back national championships at Alabama in her days as a gymnast.

“I have absolutely seen great teams have bad meets,” Johnston said offering some perspective this week. “I have been a part of great teams that have had bad meets. And it’s really these moments that can make or break you.

“And I think we have to take challenges like this and turn it to our greatest strength, greatest opportunity, and learn how to thrive through them and not just survive through them.”

There’s the challenge for Auburn: Even great teams have bad meets. Auburn has had the bad meet. Now it’s up to Auburn to prove that it’s still a great team.

“We have decided as a team to leave everything in the past,” Sheppard said. “The main thing that we’re focusing on is just being together and being a unit. And once we accomplish that, I think the gymnastics will come along.”

Sheppard, Slappey and the rest of Auburn’s seniors have been working to keep that focus during what they hope is only a rough patch in the season after that last meet.

“I just want everyone to know that mistakes like that happen and we shouldn’t be down on ourselves for that the rest of the week,” Slappey said. “We just need to learn from our mistakes and fix them this week.

“I like to say a lot that this season is a marathon not a sprint, and one bad meet isn’t the end of the world. We’ll learn from it this week.”

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