After some disappointing injuries and holes left by the 2016 graduating class, Auburn slipped back from No. 6 in 2015 to No. 15 two years later. This year, the Tigers bring in a big class of freshmen, some of whom could contribute sets across all four events. Can these newcomers, as well as the return of Abby Milliet, help Auburn rise back into nationals contention? We’ll break it down to try and figure it out.
Vault at Auburn has often been a Yurchenko full parade, with the occasional one and a half. The incoming freshmen will look to change this, bringing two strong one and a halfs from Jada Glenn and Drew Watson. Both placed in the top ten at this year’s J.O. nationals, and both have great technique. Their twin 10.0 start values will be a welcome change for the Tigers. As far as fulls go, Ashley Smith’s (not to be confused with the incoming freshman at Iowa) and Sydney Bassett’s are both useable, with Smith’s the stronger of the two.
Of the returning Tigers, Gracie Day and Milliet are the only two likely to have 10.0 SVs. Day’s one and a half from last season scored rather inconsistently, which may be why she switched to a full later in the season. Milliet has now trained two different 10.0 vaults, an Omelianchik and a Yurchenko half-on, tuck half off. She competed the Omelianchik once last season for just a 9.6 before her injury, but in practice it looked much better than that. Her newer vault looks fairly viable, but it has yet to be seen whether it’s viable for competition. The possibility of a 10.0 vault is something we can’t ignore, but based on previous performance, an early lineup slot is the most optimistic we can be. As far as returning Yurchenko fulls, Katie Becker and Taylor Krippner have had solid results, with Becker being a probable choice for the lead-off spot and Krippner providing stability mid-lineup. Emma Engler and A’Miracal Phillips also have useable fulls, with Phillips the stronger of the two. Here’s a look at who we’d consider to be the strongest six for the Tigers on vault.
Becker | Milliet | Krippner | Day | Glenn | Watson
Alternates: Phillips | Smith | Engler
Bars was Auburn’s strongest event last season, but in losing senior Kelsey Kopec, it loses one of its most dependable routines. Watson and Smith are the likeliest of the freshmen to contribute, with floaty releases, natural swings and E releases—toe-on Tkachevs. Meredith Sylvia also has a lovely set, with a unique toe on front tuck dismount, but her inconsistency is a bit of a red flag. And unfortunately, that fun dismount may not be up to the proper difficulty level for college, so she may have to change or connect it to make the lineup.
The Tigers return all four gymnasts who scored 9.9 or higher on bars in 2017: Krippner, Day, Engler and Samantha Cerio. Cerio and Engler are likely to compete for the anchor position, each with at least three 9.9+ scores, no falls and great sets to boot. Day is our pick for the lead-off spot, as she hit the 9.85 mark in nearly half of her routines. Her consistency should be a great asset to her team. Krippner, on the other hand, is far more inconsistent, scoring between 9.725 and 9.9 for a hit routine and two falls. She’s has strong scoring potential, but her lack of consistency may lose her a spot in the top six. Milliet is also a strong bar worker, with multiple 9.9+ scores in her last full season in 2016. If she’s back to full force, she should be a definite strong contender for the Tigers. Becker also competed on bars for the second half of the season, so while she was mostly stuck in the 9.7s and had a fall, she has the experience to be a solid alternate. Take a look below at who we’d put in Auburn’s bar lineup in 2018.
Day | Smith | Milliet | Watson | Engler | Cerio
Alternates: Krippner | Becker | Sylvia
Beam was another strength for Auburn in 2017, finishing the season ranked No. 19. And Watson is likely to help improve the Tigers’ beam prospects even further with her high, consistent scores. She hasn’t fallen in competition in almost two years, and her confident, patient demeanor on the apparatus shows why. Though it’s a bit unconventional, Watson would make an excellent lead-off. Sylvia on the other hand is more of a creative daredevil, showcasing her fun and unique front aerial to Rufolva series and a switch leg side aerial (named after former NCAA gymnast Maddie Gardiner). However, these risky skills do make her a bit more wobbly, so some of them may disappear in her college routine if she can’t consistently hit them. Smith also has a strong set, but her execution doesn’t have the polish that the other newcomers do.
The returning Tigers are no slouches, though. Engler and Krippner both scored 9.9+ last season, though both are quite inconsistent and each had three falls apiece. Krippner has the higher season high at a 9.925, as well as the better average for a hit routine. She edges Engler out for the anchor position for us by a small margin. Milliet also had excellent beam scores when she was healthy, never falling. And in her only three routines of 2017, she hit a high of 9.875. If she’s fully healed, we expect her to be a major factor. Emma Slappey finally made her debut in 2017, rocking out on beam to the tune of 9.8+ scores on ten of her 13 performances. Her power and attack on this event makes her routine one that head coach Jeff Graba won’t want to leave out. Cerio and Becker also competed on the event regularly, with Cerio the better between the two. However, both were fairly inconsistent, each having at least two falls. It’s going to come down to who can hit the most in practice to see which six make the lineup. Below you’ll find our proposed beam squad for the Tigers this year.
Watson | Milliet | Slappey | Sylvia | Engler | Krippner
Alternates: Smith | Cerio | Becker
Floor was Auburn’s worst event last year—one where it showed the most weakness in comparison to its fellow SEC teams. With only one E pass in its arsenal and losing three of its five top scorers, the incoming class has a lot of ground to make up. Sylvia is probably the best of the freshmen to make that happen, with a gorgeous triple twist. Watson is also a solid choice, with clean, cookie cutter tumbling and superb musicality. Smith is another great performer, with tons of personality and good tumbling. Glenn, too, has a passable routine, but doesn’t quite have the pop in her tumbling that you’d expect after seeing her strong vault. She may make a good alternate choice but likely won’t see time in the lineup in 2018.
Cerio and Slappey lead the veterans, both having had 9.9s in the past. Day should be an important part of the floor squad as well, with the only returning E pass of the bunch. Her scores were a little spotty last season, so it’ll be important for her to improve the dependability of her full-in to make it worth her while. Becker was a breakout performer, stepping into the role after Milliet’s injury and earning a number of 9.8+ scores. Speaking of Milliet, the redshirt junior has trained on floor, though her one 9.55 outing last season doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence. She’ll likely stay an alternate until she can show she’s ready for a full routine. Here’s our proposed floor squad for the Tigers this year.
Watson | Smith | Day | Cerio | Sylvia | Slappey
Alternates: Milliet | Becker | Glenn
In the all around, Auburn didn’t have any strong contenders last season. Milliet was supposed to make a bid but her injury took her out after just the fourth meet. She may return to her previous strength and compete for lineup spots on all four but not most likely to start. Watson is also an excellent all around candidate, with steady, dependable sets across the board.
We would be remiss if we didn’t mention Skyler Sheppard, who has announced her transfer to Auburn but hasn’t been added to the roster yet. Her Yurchenko half on vault, sassy beam set and triple twist on floor would be incredible assets to this Auburn team, and we would expect her to make at least the vault and floor lineups should she join the team in January.
Article by Caroline Medley, graphics by Emily Howell-Forbes