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In 2017, Auburn Gymnastics beat Alabama for the first time since Jimmy Carter was president. Luckily for them, it didn’t take another 37 years to do it again.
The Tigers overtook the Crimson Tide at the team’s first home meet of the 2020 season, and now, headed into one of the most famous matchups between the arch rivals, the question stands: can Auburn beat Alabama twice in one year?
The “Battle for Birmingham” will commence on Friday, March 13 at 7 PM ET as part of the Elevate the Stage Birmingham event, with both teams fighting for a home-state victory. The odds are stacked against the Tigers, who have never beaten Alabama in an Elevate the Stage competition before. But with a strong freshman class and a team that has come out victorious once already this season, Auburn’s chances of winning have never looked better.
The team is taking a full-throttle approach to the meet, since the podium setup should create an optimal environment for performing upgraded routines. “On paper, right now we’re hoping to throw probably four or five E passes on floor,” Auburn head coach Jeff Graba said. “Most of our girls have done the E pass and just aren’t using it every weekend, but since it’s near the end of season and [the meet] is on podium, we’re definitely going to want to do it there if we can.”
Besides getting the opportunity to compete on podium before the postseason — an advantage over many other teams — Auburn is looking forward to the fan energy at Elevate. “If anything, the rivalry is a fan rivalry and in this state they don’t take anything lightly when it’s Auburn and Alabama,” Graba said with a hardened chuckle.
Supporters of both teams travel from across the state to watch the competition, many of them with young gymnasts in tow. In addition to the dual NCAA matchup, the weekend also includes several J.O. competitions, which is why senior Gracie Day looks forward to competing in Birmingham. “Part of the reason I do this sport is because of those girls and to be able to have someone that they look up to,” she said.
And while she’s definitely excited for this one-of-a-kind meet, Day believes it’s important to dial down and treat the night like any other. “Our team’s goals heading into Elevate are pretty straightforward, just like they are every week,” the senior said. “We’re just taking it as another step in the long run of season.”
The Tigers have been working hard to combat the midseason fatigue that many teams are experiencing right now. A big part of their strategy is to stay fueled and hydrated, as well as training smart. Graba doesn’t believe the team has peaked yet and hopes its climax will come during postseason. “We don’t believe we’ve lived up to our own standards yet, so were still searching for that 24 for 24 routines the way we want to do them,” he explained.
Day also has high hopes for postseason, but wants to focus on the steps that come first. “Like every team, we want to make it to nationals and we want to make it to the final night, but that comes from each meet that’s ahead of us,” she said. “With Elevate, that’s the next step.”
Will the Tigers defeat the Crimson Tide? Tune in to the Auburn-Alabama matchup next weekend on FloGymnastics to find out!