Auburn Senior Standout Cassie Stevens Stays Two Steps Ahead

Auburn Senior Standout Cassie Stevens Stays Two Steps Ahead

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Auburn Senior Standout Cassie Stevens Stays Two Steps Ahead

By Christy Sandmaier

Cassie Stevens is having herself a season.

At the 2023 SEC Championships, the Auburn senior was honored centerstage with the SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year award, and earned a share of the SEC Vault Champion crown, scoring a 9.95. In addition, she and her teammates placed first after Session 1 and finished fifth overall at the two-session meet. Stevens also finished first in the All-Around after Session 1. Last week, she was named to the vault first team with a 9.925 NQS, picking up the first All-America honor of her career.

It’s been quite a ride and with Regional competition ready to roll this week, Stevens is more prepared and more excited than ever to take the next step in postseason.

In her four years as a Tiger, Stevens, like so many seniors, has been through it. She was faced with adapting to life as a student-athlete first, and then just as she was starting to hit her stride and become comfortable, the uncertainty of navigating “the COVID years” hit. Then in 2022, Auburn, already a program on the rise, went from zero to 100 overnight it seemed, welcoming 2020 Olympic All-Around Champion Suni Lee to its roster and setting attendance records one after the other. Lee’s arrival, coupled with the ever-increasing popularity of NCAA women’s gymnastics, exponentially increased the spotlight (and seemingly the pressure) on the Tigers, who responded beautifully, finishing their most memorable season to date with a trip to the Final Four. 

For Stevens, the sold out crowds and incredible fan support in particular, have made everything that much more meaningful to her college experience. 

“It wasn’t something I thought I would enjoy as much as I do coming into college,” she said. “It was something I never really considered or thought about. I was like, ‘oh, yeah, that sounds kind of fun!’ But being in the moment, it’s a big deal. It really does make a big difference. It matters and it’s so fun, especially coming from the COVID years where there was no one, and going from COVID year to Suni year was a world of difference and it was so exciting and so fun!”

Because of her experience, Stevens has also been able to keep it all in perspective and do what she’s always done: focus on staying two steps ahead, especially in her senior year. As a student-athlete, she’s always focused on her academics just as much or more than her gymnastics, knowing it all will pay dividends in so many ways as she moves forward. The SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year award for one, she says, was an incredible surprise because she “didn’t even know it was a thing.” 

It was a full circle moment in a way, and also an incredible achievement highlighted especially because she was able to share the moment with her team. “It was really nice to see that hard work in all aspects pay off. I actually joked with my teammates after and said ‘and you all make fun of me for taking my computer in my backpack everywhere I go!’” 

Stevens’ accomplishments are yet another reminder of how all of the student-athletes we are lucky enough to watch week after week should be recognized just as much for their accomplishments off the floor as on. With academics and community service so much a part of their daily lives, along with balancing the pressures (and excitement) of competing in such a highly competitive and high-profile environment, what they achieve over the course of just one season is remarkable. 

For Stevens, striking a balance between her gymnastics, school and social life is important to her, and performing her very best for her team, of course, is never far from her mind. She credits her experience as a key to this year’s success in particular.

“I really do think it had a lot to do with my experience,” Stevens said. “I feel like I’ve been in so many different situations. I’ve been through a lot. I’ve been through the ups, the downs, the COVID, the Final Four. And so I have a lot of experience in my back pocket that I’m working with. Going into all of these different situations and circumstances, I feel better equipped with how to deal with them and how to overcome and thrive.” 



This week, No.12 seeded Auburn heads to the West Coast to face No. 5 Utah, No. 21 Southern Utah and No. 27 Washington in Semifinal Session 1 of the Los Angeles Regional on Thursday, March 30 (Semifinal Session 2 features No. 4 UCLA, No. 13 Missouri, No. 20 Stanford and the Play-In Round One winner No. 33 BYU or No. 36 Boise State). If all goes according to plan, they’ll advance to the Regional Final on Saturday, April 1 where the top two teams will earn their place to NCAA Championships April 13-15 in Fort Worth.

Given her experience, Stevens doesn’t expect it to be easy, but she does expect to have fun with her team and to do what they’ve been training for all season: to do it when it counts. 

There’s no question we’re going to have to be really good if we want to move on because there’s lots of other really good teams there,” she said. “And so just being able to handle that pressure but not put too much on yourself [and] doing what we do in practice, is it.” 

Stevens’ performances will be key at Regionals as they have all season long for the Tigers, and so will her leadership. After that, it’s out of her control. She’s done the work and the scores will fall where they will. And so, with her perspective and goals, and her faith in herself and in her team in focus, Stevens heads to LA believing that anything is possible just as she has throughout her entire career. Two steps and full speed ahead. 

The Tuesday following SECs, Stevens took time to chat with us about her season, Regionals, and what being a student-athlete at Auburn has taught her most. Here’s more of our conversation.

So tell me a little bit about SECs… Initially, I’m sure you could have felt a little bit disappointed being in the afternoon session. How did you, particularly as a senior and as a leader, move past that and help your team get excited for competing in Session 1?

I think the message was you can only control what you can control. We don’t really have control of how the other teams do, what they score in comparison to us, and where that moves us. So just making the most out of the situation that you’re given, controlling what you can control and just having fun, not dwelling on the disappointment, but seeing it as an opportunity, was, I think, the best message.

You all absolutely took the opportunity and capitalized! So, for you personally, did you realize heading towards the end of the competition that you were leading in the All-Around? What did it feel like to see your name in first place after Session 1 once the meet was over?

Going into that, I had no idea. During the meet, I just knew I was doing well and I was having fun. So I was happy with that and my performances, of course. But then afterwards, like, seeing that, it felt really good just knowing our work paid off and just being able to be there for my team and doing well in some of those hard situations that I was in.

For fans and for the media watching, everything’s going so incredibly fast at the beginning, especially in a Championship like this one – you’re trying to watch everybody. I looked over just in time to see you nail your vault (Yurchenko one and a half) on the first event and honestly got chills! Did you know from there that this was going to be an amazing competition?! 

I felt good going into the meet. I was having fun! The vibes were good, and I felt strong. I felt prepared, mentally and physically. I did not know it was going to be that good from the vault. Obviously, it was a great start, and I just wanted to build off of it and build each routine. But I think from that moment, I just took it with me. I took the, I don’t know what the right word is, the confidence from it, the great starting point, and I took that with me into the rest of the events.


With so much experience under your belt, how do you help your younger teammates during the challenging moments? Do you enjoy being a team leader?

I do, actually. I feel like last year I kind of dipped my toe in the water a little bit because my freshman and sophomore year, I would say, I led by example. I wasn’t as much of an outspoken leader. I’ve definitely stepped into the role a lot more this year just because I’ve been the freshman, I’ve been the sophomore. It’s been a whirlwind. And so I just want to give my experiences to them and help them not make the same mistakes that I did, overcome things quicker and easier. I have really enjoyed it. It’s been really fulfilling for me as a senior, for sure. 

And you’ve been with the program, like you said, through a lot of ups and downs. For many years, Auburn has definitely been a team on the rise. There’s no secret about that. And obviously last year the spotlight shifted to your team quite a bit. So how do you balance that? Is it extra pressure knowing that a lot more people are watching? Or, do you take that as an opportunity to say, ‘we’ve always been here and we’re just going to be that much better’?

I think it is a little bit of extra pressure, but it’s also extra motivation and like you said, an opportunity just to have all those people watching you and supporting you. I think you have to flip the perspective a little bit and not say ‘they’re watching me, so I have to do great.’ They’re watching me and they’re supporting me, so I get to perform for them! I get to show what I’ve been working for, and they get to see it and enjoy it with me. Even just the big crowds, big audiences, everywhere we go. It’s exciting, it’s energetic. It really does help your gymnastics when you’re competing, having that support and the energy of the crowd.

So, switching gears, winning SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year, I know that was really special to you and really important to you and by the way, was one of our most popular and most shared posts of the weekend! So tell me about your feelings learning you won and being in that moment to get that award.

I didn’t even really know that was a thing, and I was like, ‘Wait, that’s kind of exciting!’ Just because my personality is when I do something, I give 110% both in the gym and outside of the gym. Like every bus ride, every plane ride, I’ve got my computer out and I’m studying and I’m doing my schoolwork just because I like to stay on top of things and be ahead. It’s really nice to have that recognized. I love the gymnastics aspect, but I feel academics is such a big piece of who I am.

From your freshman year until now, have you seen a change in yourself between the academic and athletic balance? What are maybe some lessons that you learned early on in creating that balance?

Academically, I will say, luckily I came in with a pretty good work ethic relating to school, so I didn’t have too many hard lessons there to learn. But definitely I always like to stay two steps ahead just because you never know what’s going to happen and you never know what might pop up – a meeting, an interview, and so you might not have time to do something that you had originally intended to do. So just staying ahead and building in the extra time for the unknown is something that I always do and just taking advantage of every opportunity you get, like bus rides and travel trips. 

But another lesson, a big lesson that I have learned is don’t let it consume you, though, because you still want to be able to enjoy the life and the times of your friends and the moments with your teammates on a travel trip. So, it’s really a balance of staying ahead, but if an opportunity arises to go have fun, allow yourself to go have fun, too. Building in that extra buffer, basically, so you can go have dinner with friends if everyone’s going out. You don’t want to have to say, ‘no, I have to get this assignment done.’

Thinking back, what was it about Auburn that you said, ‘This is where I want to be’?

Well, I never really had a dream school. A lot of my teammates had that, which was actually kind of hard for me because then I had to go on a bunch of visits and kind of see what I liked and what I didn’t like. Coming and visiting the campus and meeting the coaches and just the culture and vibe of the team just really drew me in. It wasn’t really like any of the other programs. It just seemed so fun and so, like, home, and I just really loved all that. My personality is very Type A, very strict rule following, and so I think that this environment was perfect for balancing out my personality.

You’re headed to LA For Regionals. What’s the focus now in practice?

I would say we’re focusing on being able to be on when it matters because that’s what it’s going to come down to. Just being able to showcase what we can do when the time matters, is a lot of what we’re focusing on in the gym.

There’s a lot of talk about the distance and travel days for some of the teams not being fair. Is it a concern for you, or are all of you so used to traveling now that it won’t make a difference?

Well, we did in the very beginning of season, we traveled to Vegas (for the Super 16 in January). So that was kind of a very similar trip. We know what we’re working with there. Although I’m hoping my suitcase does not get lost again! (laughs)

Oh! Did it get lost in Vegas!?

Yes, it did! (laughs)

So, we’re actually really excited to go to UCLA. When they first told us the four options, that was kind of the one we actually said a lot of us girls wanted to go to just because it’s fun, it’s new. Some of us, like me, are actually from the West Coast. And so that’s exciting to go back over there and just have all California has to offer.

I know you’re obviously not done yet, there’s still at least one more competition to go and work to do, but tell me some of your favorite memories competing for Auburn, what have been some of the things that you’ll look back on as incredible moments on, or off the floor?

My top memory was probably my vault at the Florida meet last year just because there was so much that went on behind that. Just kind of coming in and struggling with that vault for a while, a year or so, and then being able to put in the work and get it back and having all that work showcased in that vault, it was just a really special moment!

Another fun memory was when we were in Vegas. We did a lot of fun shopping and saw the Cirque show “O” and it was incredible! The first trips of the year especially, they really try and plan time for us to have fun.

Tell me something people might not know about you, or about a moment where you surprised yourself, or felt, just really proud of overcoming an ongoing challenge or obstacle…

It’s taken a while, but just overcoming my perfectionism was something I had to work through for sure. My freshman and sophomore year, if something wasn’t perfect, I would go from zero to 100. I would get really frustrated really easily with myself.  I’ve kind of come to terms with not everything’s going to be perfect all the time, and that’s okay because, honestly, the failures and the mistakes are how you learn and how you adapt and become even better than you ever thought. So that was definitely something that I’ve learned and I haven’t yet mastered, but it’s come a long way, for sure. And just learning not to be too hard on myself. You have to give yourself grace. 

If you could take yourself back to your club days or your early gymnastics dreams and you were writing a letter to your younger self, what would you say?

I would say everything’s going to work out just the way it’s supposed to. You don’t have to have all the answers now. You don’t have to be perfect now. Just trust in the process, trust in the Lord, and everything’s going to work out exactly the way it’s supposed to.

Anything else that you want to say to your fans, Auburn, or to your teammates?

War Eagle!

Photos by Lloyd Smith for Inside Gymnastics

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