Auburn vs. Kentucky gymnastics

Auburn's Skyler Sheppard does her floor routine during the Auburn vs. Kentucky gymnastics meet at Auburn Arena on Feb. 7, 2020.

Auburn head coach Jeff Graba says he’s never had to take these measures before.

But, of course, his teams may have never really faced a gauntlet before quite like the one the Tigers have run through this season.

Auburn made the rare move to tweak its schedule in order to rest and reset before No. 2 Florida comes to the Plains for a big throwdown this Friday, giving gymnasts more time to recover after two meets in five days last week — and after what has surely felt like a sprint for them all season since the schedule opened in January.

Graba called off conditioning on Saturday and practice on Monday, bringing the group back refocused for a full workout on Tuesday. Auburn started its season with a trip to California, crammed a long bus ride to LSU between meets against other championship programs like Alabama and Georgia, and after that Georgia meet on Super Bowl Sunday then turned around quickly to face Kentucky last Friday.

The schedule made for a tired team, which against Kentucky exploded out to a season-high on vault in the first event of the night before stumbling in both the middle events on the way to a loss, with the coach saying he saw his team just run out of gas in those middle events.

“This team is not great about taking it easy,” Graba also said, mentioning a relentlessness that may well be one of the best things about his fiery team loaded with seven freshmen on a 21-gymnast roster, but that could also come as a detriment.

“They just keep pushing, pushing, pushing,” he said. “So in some ways they’re their own worst enemies.”

The issue at play with gymnastics, of course, is that there’s no such thing as half-speed in practice. Where a football team has the chance to wear shorts or practice without contact during a workout, a gymnast going anything short of full speed on a flip could end in injury.

So Auburn has made a rare move and, now, the Tigers are bent on making the most of it.

“I think this week is the point in the season where we kind of just take a step back and look at the big picture,” Auburn junior Meredith Sylvia said. “We see what we’re doing right, we see what we’re doing wrong, and we adjust.

“So I think we’ve kind of just hit the reset button this week and really just focused on ourselves and kind of prepared for the end of the season.”

Auburn finished last Friday’s meet with its lowest home score this season, despite setting that season-best score on vault to open the meet. After an electric 49.425 on vault, the Tigers seemed depleted when they tallied a 48.925 on bars and a 48.850 on beam.

“We weren’t full of energy on Friday night. We started strong, and I do like that we finished strong,” Graba said, calling on how his team’s heavy hitters helped finish the night with a 49.000 on floor. “We finished the last three floor routines with a lot of fight. But the middle of the lineup, the middle events, were really struggling. It was an energy thing.

“I’ve never done that before in my career,” he said of the way he switched up the schedule this week, “but we needed it right now and we need to hit the reset button and the only way we get something out of the reset button is if we have energy to follow it up.”

Auburn will need all of it Friday against Florida, one of the sport’s most stellar teams.

The meet is set to start at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Auburn Arena and is set to be televised on SEC Network.

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