Sophia Groth: “We have nothing to lose, everything to gain.” 

By Ashlee Buhler 

Under the bright lights of Neville Arena, in front of 9,000+ passionate Tiger fans, freshman Sophia Groth isn’t afraid to shine. She may not be the biggest name in Auburn’s freshman class, but her impact has been momentous and equally as important to the Tigers success this season. 

Groth hasn’t missed a beat since making the near 1,000 mile trip from Des Moines, Iowa to Auburn, Alabama. She has competed in the All-Around for most of the season and has hit every single routine, proving to be the one her team can count on when called upon. As reliable as she is on all four events, the beam is her prowess. She has notched a 9.95 eight times this season and picked up the first regular season All-America honor of her career on the event. 

Heading into  the NCAA Championships the Tigers are ranked sixth nationally, with a real chance to pull out an upset if they show up to Fort Worth at their best. They’ll face Florida, Michigan and Missouri in the semifinals, needing to place in the top two to advance to the finals, but it’s a challenge they are more than prepared to accept. When looking at the season as a whole, don’t forget it’s the Auburn Tigers who hold a share of the second highest score this season after tying Florida for the win at home on Senior Night with a program record score (198.575).

No matter what happens in Fort Worth, Groth will walk away from her freshman season with her head held high. She knows her team has already made history, she knows the obstacles they have had to overcome, and when they step onto the competition floor in Dixies Arena, she knows they will already be champions. 

Inside Gymnastics caught up with Sophia Groth to discuss her transition to college, the electric Auburn crowd, her first NCAA regionals experience, and the focus for her team heading into the NCAA Championships. 

You recently shared a screenshot on Instagram about your commitment to Auburn as an eighth grader, despite your mom having some qualms with you going to a program that wasn’t considered an NCAA Championship team. You were determined to do it and look at you now—for just the sixth time in program history and the first time since 2016 the Tigers are headed back to the NCAA Championships. Has it sunk in yet? 

It is crazy to think I made one of the biggest decisions of my life at such a young age! At the time, I didn’t realize what an impact it would have on my life and honestly when I was making the decision I was still figuring out what order the classes went inI thought it was freshman, junior, sophomore, senior! To be able to look back on it now and have so much more insight has been truly magical. I had goals and plans and have done everything I could in my power to prepare and put in the work ever since I committed, so to see it all come to fruition is that much more rewarding. 

For your very first NCAA postseason experience you got to compete in front of your home crowd while helping your team advance to the NCAA Championships. What did you think of the experience? 

Being able to have regionals at home for my first season definitely made the transition from regular to postseason much smoother. I knew my goals and job remained constant so I relied on treating it like any other meet. In reality, the pressure was much greater than any other meet, but I was just thankful to be competing with the team and knowing I had their support no matter the outcome. 

You’ve had quite the atmosphere all season long at home with Auburn’s very passionate fan base! Can you feel that energy from the crowd when you’re competing? 

I absolutely could feel the energy and passion the home crowd brought all season long. It was electric! I didn’t have last year’s COVID crowd so I didn’t have that to compare this year to. From what teammates have told me, it was a completely different experience. I’m very thankful we were able to have our full capacity crowd this year. 

You’ve been so steady this season… what’s the secret to your calm composure and consistency?

I have been so grateful to have so many opportunities to compete this year. We have a lot of depth and talent and hard work on our team so I always take full advantage of every opportunity I get because you never know. I have standards for myself and what I want to accomplish and how I carry myself, but I try not to put too much pressure on myself because I am confident in my gymnastics and training and I leave the rest for God to control.

How have you adjusted to the college lifestyle and being a student athlete? Is there anyone in particular who has been a mentor for you?

The adjustment from high school and club gymnastics to college and collegiate athletics was both chaotic and beautiful. We were fortunate enough to come on during the summer to get a head start in the classroom and get acclimated to the new lifestyle. The initial shock of living away from home was hard, but having my roommate and other freshmen helped because we were all in the same boat. The hardest adjustment was figuring out how and when to use the abundance of resources we had access to. Older teammates gave great advice and direction but I soon figured out that I had to initiate a lot of conversations and communicate my needs… welcome to “adulthood!”I grew up quickly because I had no other option, but I think I have fully embraced it. People use being a freshman as an excuse and while it can be justification enough, I have tried to make this year my own and defy what it means to be a freshman in college. It hits everyone differently but my mom prepared me to be my own individual and to do things for myself so I implemented that mentality in the classroom, gym, and social life and I think that has definitely contributed to where I am now. 

Your team will be facing off against some incredible teams in the NCAA semifinals. What will be the focus for your team in the gym in the days leading up to NCAA’s to ensure you’re physically and mentally at your best? 

I am so excited for the NCAA Championship and being able to continue this season with this team. Having this week to recover and reset has been a blessing because we have been non stop for over three months. Our focus as a team is to be our average because our average is good enough. A lot of teams and individuals put more pressure on this meet than they need to and that is when issues arise. We have put in the work and prepared all season long so we are more than ready for what’s to come. In terms of competing against the top teams in the nation, it’s nothing new. We have competed against every team in our Elite Eight session this season already so we know what to expect and can be that much more prepared. The goal is to just be Auburn gymnastics and perform to the best of our abilities. If we do that, I believe we will come home as champions. 

You have so much to be proud of this season regardless of what happens in Fort Worth, but I’m curious what a successful season would look like in your mind when all is said and done?

We have already accomplished so much this season and there is so much to be proud of. We have made history for this Auburn gymnastics program week after week and the number of accolades we have compared to other seasons has easily doubled! My goal for finishing out the season is to do my job. Just like any other meet. Just be myself and lift others up in the process. We will never get this team again so making the most of this experience as a team is imperative for a successful weekend. At the beginning of the season, the coaches had me write out specific goals. I wrote down that I wanted to be a champion and what that looked like. I broke it down into mental, physical, and emotional categories and put an emphasis on the character aspect. At the end of the day, it would be nice to have a physical trophy or ring to show my kids that I was a champion but personally, I know each and every one of us has demonstrated what a champion looks like. Inside and outside the gym we have sacrificed more than anyone could ever understand, we’ve faced physical, mental, emotional, and personal setbacks and struggles but we compartmentalized and put on a brave face because that’s what a champion does. We show up and we set each other up for success. When someone doesn’t have their best day we say, “Don’t worry, we got you.” 

We are going into Fort Worth as champions and we have nothing to lose, everything to gain. This is just another opportunity to shine our lights and show the nation who Auburn gymnastics is and what we stand for. 

Photos by Lloyd Smith for Inside Gymnastics 

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