Auburn gymnastics advances to the NCAA finals, while Suni Lee wins the national championship

Auburn gymnastics advances to the NCAA finals, while Suni Lee wins the national championship ...

Auburn's Olympic medalist has become an NCAA champion, and the Tigers have won the chance to join her.

Suni Lee advanced to the national team finals during the second session of the national semifinals in Forth Worth, Texas. Auburn scored a 197.8375 to finish in the top two of the session and clinch a ticket to the final four for the first time in program history.

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The Tigers finished ahead of Florida and Michigan, both in the finals on Saturday. The Sooners and Utes advanced in the first session Thursday, with Oklahoma finishing with a 198.1125 and Utah at 197.7125.

We were very pleased with the outcome, said Auburn coach Jeff Graba. We felt like we were capable of this. Im really proud of the group. We talked a lot about the journey to come to terms.

Auburn's spot in the finals was secured by the team's third-best total in program history, which was the Tigers' third-best team score of the season. Auburn opened on beam with a 49.475 behind Lee's 9.9650, which was enough for the freshman and Olympic all-around gold medalist to win the individual national championship. The Tigers' score on beam put them in second, behind Michigan, after one rotation.

In the past couple meets I've been stuck on beam, so returning and build that confidence again means a lot, Lee said. The team makes everything so much better because it's so memorable, and it's something I'm never going to forget.

Auburn climbed into the lead at the midway point of the session, overcoming a floor flaw by Drew Watson. The Tigers were able to drop Watson's 9.650 with four quick big-time tricks from Cassie Stevens (9.9000), Sophia Groth (9.9000), Lee (9.9500) and Derrian Gobourne (9.9625), who finished with a 49.5750 on floor. That put them at 99.0500 at the midway point of the meet and atop the four-

Auburn held on to that lead through the third rotation owing to the team's greatest overall vault performance of the year, converting in a 49.3500 on that apparatus. Watson apologized for her misstep on the floor, scoring a 9.9250 on vault to lead Auburn in that event.

Drew has stepped up so many times, Gobourne said. Shes great at how she performs.

Auburn qualified for a spot in the finals thanks to a 9.9125 on bars, which briefly put her atop the individual all-around leaderboard. Trinity Thomas, a Floridan, won the all-around title (and floor title) after her perfect 10 on floor made her to an all-around 39.8125.

On floors and bars, Gobourne was the national runner-up.

Thomas' powerful finish put her on the standout while Florida atop the team leaderboard to finish the meet, but Auburn is still performing well enough for its season to thrive. Saturday's finals

Graba expressed his gratitude for the fact that we were capable of this. "We felt like we were capable of this." I'm absolutely proud of the girls. A lot of pride for the program and where we have promoted this program to, and now it's just joy.

Tom Green is an Alabama Media Group beat reporter. Follow him on Twitter.

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