Auburn gymnastics vs. Georgia

Auburn's Derrian Gobourne during her floor routine. Auburn gymnastics vs. Georgia on Friday, Jan. 25, 2019, at the Auburn Arena in Auburn, Ala.

It’s a study trip for Derrian Gobourne.

There’s plenty the freshman can learn this weekend in her first trip to the national championship meet.

Gobourne is representing Auburn as an individualist qualifier on vault today at the NCAA gymnastics national championship in Fort Worth, Texas.

Auburn’s record-setting season ended last weekend at the regional final in Baton Rouge, La. Gobourne, though, threw down a season-high 9.950 on vault there to push herself to an appearance at the national finals.

Gobourne will compete in the first rotation of the event’s second semifinal session, set to start at 6 p.m. tonight and to be televised on ESPN2 or ESPNU.

For the freshman, she’s approaching the trip as a chance to watch, learn and take in the environment before coming back for another strong season next year.

“I can just observe and then take stuff back — just watching other teams and maybe seeing how they do stuff,” Gobourne said this week as she hammered down her vault and prepared for the trip.

“Maybe it can help us,” she added.

Auburn head coach Jeff Graba knows there’s definitely something his rookie can gain from the trip — even though Gobourne and Graba both would rather be going to Fort Worth with the rest of the Tigers as team qualifiers.

Instead, though, she still has her chance to take notes for her own future, and to share with her teammates aiming to get there as a group next year.

“Our message to her has just been, ‘Enjoy it and try learn from it, so you can bring back some experience,’” Graba said.

“She can bring back a lot,” he went on, adding that now-sophomore Drew Watson grew from the same experience last season. “I know she’s not fully aware of what she can bring back, but just experiencing it, bringing it back and sharing that with your teammates, I think that’s going to be a big help.”

Graba and the Tigers coaches traveling with Gobourne will bring their notepads, too. The championships run under a new format this season, which is turning what was a three-hour meet into go-rounds running under two hours.

Auburn got a taste of that at the regionals, and fared well enough — advancing past the first day’s eliminations into the regional finals. Now the Tiger coaches have another chance to study up.

“We figured that out for regionals pretty well, and this should be pretty close to that — but we also feel like we made some mistakes,” Graba said. “The pace of it is a lot faster. The stress levels are a lot higher. ... Now it’s basically an hour and 40 minute meet, you don’t get any time to breathe, and it’s staring you in the face that everybody is really good and almost every meet is going to be within two or three tenths.

“We’re just trying to experience that and figure out how to manage it better next year.”

As for Gobourne, a standout all-around competitor for Auburn all season, she stuck her vault at regionals to finish the season at her best at that event. Volunteer assistant coach Bryan Raschilla told her, ‘Be tighter on your block,’ and with that echoing in her mind, she pushed over a mental block to tighten up the routine.

“It’s been really easy to stick now,” she said. “I think I can go to national and do what I’ve been training.”

Gobourne will hit the vault along with Oklahoma during tonight’s rotations.

Auburn finished second in the SEC’s regular-season standings this season — its highest placing ever after completing a 5-2 head-to-head record in league competition.

The Tigers hope to fly to greater heights next season, with Gobourne back with her Tigers teammates again.

Next year, Gobourne doesn’t plan on heading to nationals alone.

 “They’ve just been telling me how proud they are of me and that it’d be so fun — because they know that I don’t really want to go myself, but they’re still supporting me and they’re saying it’s going to be fun and stuff,” Gobourne said. “I can only trust them, because a lot of them have been there before.

“So, I mean, I’m excited.”

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