Suni Lee looked up and smiled.
In rocking Neville Arena, between all the action of the Auburn gymnastics team’s throwdown with Florida, the alumni in the stands got her attention.
Yes: It was a top-10 showdown back in March, and the Tigers and Gators were soaring to record-setting scores, but it was also alumni night in Auburn. Former Auburn gymnasts from across the country came back to the Plains, where they had competed when it was called Auburn Arena — or even in Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum, where the cameras were a little less clear, and when everyone’s hair was styled a little bigger, and back before all of this year’s glitz and glamor and gold.
Between rotations Lee had walked back across the floor alone to pick up a jacket near the section where the alums were sitting — and this was when the ladies let her hear it. One by one, some of them stood up for an ovation, clapping their encouragement, shouting through their smiles, pumping their fist then pulling the hair back out of their eyes, all to let Lee know they appreciated her for carrying on the legacy and appreciated her for being orange and blue.
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It was just a blink, but it quite a moment for the program. It was quite a moment for Auburn.
This past season was loaded with many more remarkable moments like that one as the Auburn gymnastics team torched the record book and charged to the Final Four in the program’s best run ever.
Here’s a look back at 10 top moments from the Auburn gymnastics season:
Lee scores her first 10 at LSU
With so many eyes on the Olympic champion, gymnastics fans from across the country wondered early in the season how Lee would transition from the elite game to NCAA competition.
Give it maybe a month: Just 29 days after making her college gymnastics debut, Lee scored her first perfect 10 on bars on Feb. 5 at LSU.
It was part of a huge road score for Auburn at LSU. Auburn rolled up a big 197.750 on the road in one of the country’s most daunting environments, and proved early in the season that the Tigers could hang with the nation’s best. Meanwhile, Lee showed how she was going to make this amazing leap to college gymnastics. Lee with her 10 because just the fifth gymnast in Auburn program history to score a perfect 10 and only the second Auburn gymnast to score a 10 on bars. She was just getting started.
So were her Tiger teammates.
McLaughlin bounces back big
One week after that, on the road at Missouri on Feb. 12, Auburn’s sensational sophomore beamer Gabby McLaughlin showed why she could hang with the best all the same — and she showed why Auburn was on its way to becoming one of the country’s best beam teams.
After struggling through a disappointing dropped score of 9.725 at LSU, McLaughlin got back on the horse one week later and dazzled the judges on beam on her way to a stellar 9.975 against Missouri. The routine was scored as a perfect 10 from one of the two judges.
McLaughlin went on to finish the season in the top 50 on beam and Auburn as a team finished No. 4 in the nation on beam — with beam being Auburn’s best event.
McLaughlin started all season for Auburn on beam, also making three starts on vault. Her role in other events could expand in future seasons, but this year, McLaughlin was a rock-steady beam specialist who the Tigers could rely on all the way through their journey to the national final.
Brusch hits full speed in postseason
Junior Aria Brusch was sidelined with injury for two weeks in February, forced to battle back on bars, beam and floor. She made an instant splash on Feb. 25 when she got back in the bars lineup, scoring a big 9.950 in her first meet back after the injury. She’d return to beam the next week while working toward a return to floor on March 19 at the SEC Championships.
After the SEC meet, Brusch seemed to be back at full speed, and just in time for the Tigers as they made their postseason push.
Brusch in the postseason was the model of consistency, hitting every routine on all three of those events through the regional semifinal, regional final, national semifinal and national final. She never fell or stepped out of bounds and never scored below a 9.750 in the postseason. She’s been a major contributor since her freshman year, and along with classmate Cassie Stevens, she’ll be one of the senior leaders of the team in 2023.
Groth shows out in the all-around
Lee wasn’t the only phenomenal freshman to join Auburn in 2022: While Lee was a five-star signee, fellow freshman Sophia Groth was a touted four-star. She was sought after by major programs across the country in recruiting and, throughout her freshman season, she proved why.
Groth made an instant impact for the Tigers and competed in the all-around for much of the season, making four starts per night as a freshman.
Her efforts in the all-around came to a head on that magic night March 4 against Florida: Groth scored a brilliant 39.700 in the all-around, outscoring even Florida’s former Team USA star Leanne Wong.
At the national finals, only four freshmen competed in the all-around, and Auburn had two of them, in Lee and Groth.
Stevens nails the Yurchenko 1.5
Auburn would go on to score a whopping 198.575 in that meet against Florida — shattering the school record for highest score in a meet and matching the fourth-highest score ever recorded in NCAA gymnastics.
Junior Cassie Stevens set the night up on vault, nailing her Yurchenko 1.5 on the second routine of the night.
She scored a 9.975 and was awarded a perfect 10 by one of the two judges — in her first attempt at the 1.5 this season.
Stevens started the season competing the Yurchenko full on vault, then in late January stepped out of the vault lineup to drill the Yurchenko 1.5, which adds another 180-degree spin and gives the gymnast’s score a higher start value.
It’s higher risk, higher reward, and on the big stage, Stevens reached for the reward, nailing the 1.5 after a month out of the starting lineup.
Gobourne gets her 10
The Queen finally got her crown, in the most epic of circumstances.
Rising to the occasion under pressure during that epic meet with Florida, Auburn’s ‘Queen’ Derrian Gobourne nailed a 10 on floor, ending her long chase for perfection on the event.
She had gotten a 9.975 four previous times in her career, meaning she had earned a 10 from one judge, but hadn’t quite gotten the unanimous decision.
Against Florida, Gobourne was sizzling and sensational, electrifying the crowd in Neville Arena — and the judges, too, because on that night there was no doubt from the judge’s tables.
Gobourne has shined on the biggest stages throughout her career. That night, the fans erupted simply for her walking onto the floor, eager and excited for the show she’d put on.
She didn’t disappoint, and she made magic again. Her 10 helped propel Auburn to the 198.575, tying Florida with the last routine in the last rotation — ensuring one of the biggest nights for Auburn gymnastics would not end with an Auburn loss.
Beating Bama again
‘The Streak’ is dead and this season the Tigers danced on its grave.
Auburn’s graduating senior class has helped changed the rivalry forever.
Auburn once suffered an unfathomable 117-meet losing streak to Alabama, which dated back to 1979 and ran until Auburn finally snapped the streak on a wild night in 2016.
Then, in 2020, Auburn picked up another win over the Tide in Auburn. In 2022, returners from that team became the first bunch to win two meets over Alabama since the 1970’s — also ensuring that the rivalry will never be the same as it was before ‘The Streak’ was snapped.
Auburn has won two straight meets against Alabama at home and Gobourne, Stevens and Brusch have never lost to Alabama at home.
Watson punches the ticket
Drew Watson pulled out one more big vault.
In storybook fashion, it was the fifth-year senior who helped slam the door on Kentucky at the regional finals, drilling a huge 9.975 on vault in the final moments of the final rotation, helping to punch Auburn’s ticket to the national meet.
Auburn went on to score a 197.775, besting Kentucky’s 197.500 and earning Auburn the second of two nationals berths coming out of the regional.
It was a season-high score for Watson, coming just when the Tigers needed it most. The fifth-year senior dug deep, pulling one more big spring out of her legs and dropping one more stuck landing on her knees, nailing a huge score in crunch time. She helped ensure that she and her two fellow fifth-year seniors would end their careers the only place they would want it to end — at the NCAA Championship meet in Fort Worth, Texas.
Lee’s national championship win
Lee came to Auburn to make history.
Promise made. Promise delivered. At nationals, the Olympic champion became an NCAA champion — again rising to her potential and somehow living up to all the enormous expectations placed on her this season by the national microscope.
Lee was graceful and precise on beam in Fort Worth on the day of the national semifinals, scoring a 9.9625 to claim the event title at nationals.
She became Auburn’s second-ever NCAA national champion.
Records may be broken, but championships last forever: With her awe-inspiring ability, Lee made her permanent mark on the Auburn gymnastics program with her national championship.
She joins Gobourne, who won the individual vault title in 2019, as the two gymnasts in Auburn’s history to have won a national championship. Gobourne was then crowned co-champion. Lee was the first outright NCAA championship winner in Auburn history.
Auburn advances to Final Four
On the bright lights, on the big stage, the Tigers put on one more big show.
Auburn’s season would already be called by many the program’s best season ever, even before the NCAA Championships: Auburn had shattered records all season, electrified fans all year in packed arenas, and had done so with more pressure on the program than ever.
But in Fort Worth, the 2022 Tigers decided to leave no doubt.
Auburn shined again in the national semifinal at the NCAA Championships, not satisfied with making the Elite Eight, outscoring Michigan and Missouri to push Auburn on to the Final Four for the first time ever.
Auburn had been to the Super Six in the old format twice, in 1993 and in 2015, finishing sixth both times. By making the new four-team final, Auburn secured the best finish in the NCAA postseason in program history — making for one more record broken by the 2022 Tigers.
Now it’s undisputed: The Tigers in 2022 put together undoubtedly the best season in program history.
And they danced together all the way to final night of the NCAA Championships.
It was an unforgettable season marked by so many fallen records — and, even better, by so many magic moments.