The NCAA women’s gymnastics season kicks off this weekend, and the No. 16 Auburn Tigers are starting at the 2020 California Grand Invitational and Collegiate Challenge.
Collegiate challenge sessions will stream live here on FloGymnastics.
2019 Record: 7-3
2019 Final Ranking: No. 16
2019 Preseason Ranking: No. 14
2020 Preseason Ranking: No. 13
Gymnasts lost: Samantha Cerio, Taylor Krippner, Abby Milliet, A’Miracal Phillips, Reid Schaefer, Mia Schlarbaum
Gymnasts gained: Aria Brusch, Morgan Leigh Oldham, Elise Panzner, Adeline Sabados, Piper Smith, Cassie Stevens, Anna Sumner
Although Auburn’s 2019 season ended after Regionals and it finished sixth at SEC Championships, it actually had a good season. After all, Auburn unexpectedly beat LSU. Things didn’t go according to plan for the team after Sam Cerio’s gruesome injury on its first day of regionals, but Auburn still ended the season in the top 20. But if you compare 2019 to previous seasons, it wasn’t Auburn’s best.
In 2016, the Tigers finished at No. 11. In 2017 and 2018, they were No. 15 and No. 14. So they have slowly been slipping in the rankings. While they’ve lost six gymnasts from last year’s roster, they fortunately haven’t lost too many routines.
On vault, Taylor Krippner and A’Mirical Phillips’ vaults will be missed but aren’t irreplaceable. Krippner was a solid vaulter for Auburn, typically scoring in the high 9.700-low 9.800 range, but showed she can really nail it, earning a 9.875 early last season. Phillips hit all of her vaults but wasn’t always consistent in execution. She mostly earned 9.700s but got a few 9.800s and a few in the 9.600 range.
One freshman who’s likely a lock for the vault lineup is Cassie Stevens. Stevens is the reigning vault champion for J.O. Nationals, Region 1 Championships, and Arizona state championships. She competed an NCAA-ready Yurchenko 1.5 during her 2019 club season and earned a 9.900 at J.O. Nationals, a perfect 10.0 at regionals, and a 9.950 at state. Her 10.0 start value almost guarantees her a spot in the lineup as long as she’s healthy.
Another freshman to watch on vault is Elise Panzner. Panzner was the vault bronze medalist at the 2019 Region 8 Championships and was the Florida state vault champion in 2018.
As for returning gymnasts, senior Katie Becker competed vault several times in 2019 but wasn’t able to solidify a place in the lineup. She consistently scored in the 9.700 range but is capable of more, as her career-high is a 9.825. With slight improvements on her Yurchenko full, she can get her scores back to the 9.800 range, which will definitely help her continue to contribute for her team.
Uneven bars is where Auburn took the biggest hit, losing half of its lineup. Bars was Cerio’s best event, where she anchored and typically scored in the mid-9.800 range but scored 9.900+ a few times last season. Krippner was also a lineup staple who often scored in the 9.800-9.900 range. Abby Milliet was on the same page. All three were excellent and clean bar workers whose routines will be missed.
Luckily for the Tigers, they have a reigning J.O. national champion on bars in freshman Aria Brusch. She will most definitely be capable of reaching the level that Cerio, Krippner, and Milliet were at, even if it doesn’t happen right away.
Adeline Sabados is another freshman expected to make an impact for Auburn on bars. Sabados finished in the top 10 on the apparatus at J.O. Nationals last season and is the reigning Region 3 and Colorado state champion. There’s also freshman Piper Smith, another top-10 J.O. Nationals finisher on bars. In addition, she won the apparatus at the 2019 Region 8 Championships and was the silver medalist at the 2019 North Carolina state championships.
Anna Sumner is another freshman who’s excelled on bars. Sumner placed in the top 10 on bars at the 2019 Region 8 Championships and at the 2019 Georgia state championships.
So the freshmen alone could easily fill in the lineups and add depth to bars, but there are returning gymnasts to consider as well. Becker competed bars five times throughout the season, scoring between 9.775 and 9.825, proving herself to be a solid contributor on the event. Senior Kendal Moss competed just once last season, but she earned a 9.850 on bars, demonstrating her ability to not only hit but score well.
On beam, the Tigers’ biggest loss is Milliet’s routine. Milliet hit every single beam routine and competed the event in every meet last season. She scored no lower than 9.725 (which she got only twice) and earned four 9.900+ scores. Krippner competed on beam for the first half of the season and a few times in March but had some trouble with consistency. She scored below 9.700 five of the nine times she competed.
It looks like senior Gracie Day is set to compete beam this season, as she debuted on the event at Auburn’s preseason exhibition meet. Junior Allie Riddle has competed beam before, and she hit all eight routines last season. Riddle scored no lower than a 9.750 and even scored as high as 9.950.
Stevens is definitely one to watch on beam even if she hasn’t officially competed in an NCAA meet yet. She’s the reigning Arizona state champion on beam with a huge score of 9.975, and she finished in the top 10 at J.O. Nationals last year. Sumner won silver on beam at last year’s 2019 Region 8 Championships and won beam at the 2019 Atlanta Crown with a 9.500. So the Tigers should be able to not only fill holes but add depth on beam.
As for floor, Auburn looks to fill spots left by Cerio and Milliet. Cerio was a good floor worker who had a few missed routines early last season but overall did well, scoring in the 9.800 range. Milliet made the floor lineup in every meet last season and didn’t falter once. Her scores ranged from 9.750 to 9.925, but most of her scores were in the 9.800 range. She scored 9.900+ twice.
The Tigers have many options for floor and definitely seem to be adding lots of depth, especially when considering the freshmen. Stevens placed in the top 10 on floor at 2019 J.O. Nationals, won silver at the 2019 Region 1 Championships, and was in the top five at the 2019 Arizona State Championships. Brusch placed in the top 10 at last year’s Region 5 Championships, while Smith and Morgan Leigh Oldham were in the top 10 on floor at the 2019 Region 8 Championships.
A few returners to consider are Day, Emma Slappey, and Ashley Smith. Day struggled on floor last season, earning some low scores, even though she competed the event several times. However, she did earn a 9.900+ twice, proving she is capable of a fantastic floor routine. If she can become consistent, she’ll be a great option for Auburn. Both Slappey and Smith competed floor several times in 2019, earning solid scores in the 9.700-9.800 range.
Set to lead the Tigers this year are junior Drew Watson and sophomore Derrian Gobourne. Both are strong all-arounders who competed all four in almost every meet in 2019. Watson competed in the all-around in every meet last season and scored 39.300+ six times, including a big 39.625. Gobourne competed all-around in all meets but two. Although it was only her freshman season, she was an excellent competitor and never scored below 39.100 in the all-around.