AUBURN, Ala. – Premier, Freshman Sunisa Lee debuted another skill never before performed on the bars.
For an encore, she scored a 10.0 on balance beam, the first by an Auburn gymnast at Auburn Arena.
All in a competition for the all-around Olympic gold medalist.
“So surreal,” Lee said. “It really feels like family, the way we all celebrated together. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in my life. It was pure bliss. Our energy was up there.”
Lee won the all-around on Friday with a 39.775 to lead No. 5 Auburn to a 197.925-197.150 win over Kentucky, the highest score in program history and the Tigers’ seventh straight 197 or better.
“I was really proud of the girls, how they settled in and continued to build throughout the competition,” the Auburn coach said. Jeff Graba noted. “We’re going to look back and feel like it made us better.”
“We can only go up from here,” Lee said. “I feel like every week we are getting better.”
A week after debuting a dazzling vault, Lee performed the Nabieva on bars, earning a 10.0 from a judge and a 9.975. This is a maneuver that had never been performed before in collegiate gymnastics; a Lee was first executed nearly a decade ago while attending Auburn’s camp for juniors.
“It’s so much fun for me,” Lee said. “I don’t want people to know what I’m going to do. I can look back and say I made history.”
“She needs to be challenged,” Graba said. “She gets bored easily. We have to keep challenging her and take the kids’ gloves off.”
Junior Aria Brusch returned triumphantly after sitting out the last two meets, scoring a career-high 9.95 on bars.
“I was excited to be back in the lineup,” Brusch said. “I took this time to rest. Sometimes the breaks are good. I’m happy to be able to contribute again.
“It’s amazing to see us building on top of each other. It’s great to see that we’re finally doing it consistently. We’re getting the scores we really worked for. We shot for 198. That’s our goal. We’re getting closer and closer every week.”
“Aria is a rock,” Graba said. “When she comes back, everyone settles down.”
Tied after three rotations, it was Auburn’s floor routines against Kentucky’s beam scores. The Wildcats applied the pressure with two 9.950s, but Auburn responded with five 9.9s or better, totaling a whopping 49.675 – a program record – while Kentucky had to count one of two falls on the beam.
Tigers trailed 49.450-49.275 after first rotation, highlighted by freshman by Sara Hubbard 9.875 on vault, a career high.
First-year student Sophie Groth got Auburn off to a strong start on bars, starting with a career-high 9.875. Junior Cassie Stevens preceded Brusch and had a career-best 9.925, helping Auburn to score 49.575.
After a slow start on beam, Tigers finished strong with second-year Groth’s 9.950 At Gabby McLaughlin’s 9.925 and Lee’s 10.0 to tie Kentucky 148.250-148.250.
On the ground, freshman Sarah Hubbard started with a 9.9, followed by by Drew Watson Stevens’ 9.925 and 9.9. When the Wildcats scored a second 9.95 on beam, the heat was on Lee and Gobourne, who each earned a 10.0 from a judge while scoring 9.975 to share the event title and take the win. from Auburn.
The Tigers’ home game next Friday will be the first of the schedule at Neville Arena, which will be officially renamed before Auburn and Florida face off at 7 p.m. CT on SEC Network+ with a share of the SEC Championship on the line if Auburn win.
“They are one of the best teams in the country,” Graba said. “This is only the second time in our program’s history that we’ve been able to win the SEC Regular Season Championship. We’re ready to go, but you have to bring your A game. We have to be better than that.”