December 19, 2015
#10 Auburn Preview
Note: Maybe don't start your highlight reel with a yurchenko layout...OUR HIGHLIGHTS.
Atkinson, Caitlin - Senior - VT, UB, BB, FX
Black, Telah - Freshman
Bray, Brooke - Sophomore - N/A
Cerio, Samantha - Freshman
Demers, Lexus - Senior - VT, BB, FX
Engler, Emma - Freshman
Finister, Kennedy - Sophomore - N/A
Garcia, Sarah - Sophomore - backup on VT, UB
Hlawek, Kullen - Junior - FX, possible UB
Jones, Blake - Sophomore - N/A
Kluz, Kait - Senior - VT, UB, FX
Kopec, Kelsey - Junior - VT, UB
Krippner, Taylor - Freshman
Milliet, Abigail - Sophomore - UB, BB (dare we hope for more?)
Phillips, A'Miracal - Freshman
Rott, MJ - Junior - VT, FX (possible BB)
Scaglione, Lucia - Junior - N/A
Slappey, Emma - Freshman
Stricklin, Cara - Sophomore - N/A
2015 - 6th
2014 - 20th
2013 - 13th
2012 - 15th
2011 - 19th
2010 - 19th
Last year was an immensely significant season for Auburn, achieving a program-first of some manner or another nearly every week and ultimately making it all the way to Super Six. Auburn has officially made the jump into the first tier, a team that must be seriously considered in Super Six prognostications, though they will not be among the big favorites this year. (Both the coaches and I have them at #10, so that means it's official.) Right now, we're probably looking at a team that's a couple tenths weaker than last season without Walker, Guy, and Webster (though there are enough unknown quantities among the freshmen that this could change), yet they should still be able to score 197s here and there. To repeat last year's accomplishment, Auburn would once again need to take advantage of mistakes from the very top teams, but this is now a team we can fully expect to make nationals. We've never been able to say that about Auburn before. Failing to qualify to nationals would be a major disappointment this year.
It has to be Caitlin Atkinson. While proving that the team does have true routine depth instead of just a big roster will be essential for a successful season, Auburn 2016 is a team absolutely dependent on its star. Atkinson is the best gymnast Auburn has on each event and is quite capable of being one of the very top AAers in the country with 9.9s on every piece. The big concern is managing her health because she has quite the colorful injury history and seems to get hurt at nationals every season. It's essential that she be four-event intact at the end of the year because without Atkinson, Auburn is a 196.4-196.5 team that would struggle to stay ahead of the likes of Oregon State and Illinois. I don't even care that her landings on the gainer pike beam dismount are worse than her landings on the double pike (which is insane, but true). Do the gainer pike. Save the Atkinson legs.
Let's continue talking about Caitlin Atkinson, shall we? While the main objective of the new vault rules is to encourage diversity of vaults, the other aim is to appropriately award gymnasts performing high-level 1.5s by providing separation between their scores and those of similarly executed fulls. Atkinson has a very good, comfortably performed 1.5 that usually scores 9.875-9.900, below the scores for many stuck fulls. In 2016, her vault should rise much closer to the top of the standings (Atkinson was just 26th on vault in 2015) and be a major asset for the team. It will also be interesting to see if Kluz's 1.5 comes back now because she can do it, though they have usually opted for the full with her. Either way, she'll be in the lineup, but put her on the 1.5-to-watch list.
The other sure bets for vault are Rott and Demers, both of whom have pretty much impeccable form on high, long fulls that should score well into the 9.8s and put the team on track toward 49.300, which I anticipate will be a pretty good team vault score this year. The rest of the spots in this lineup are there to be won, and without Guy and Webster, the team will need to find a couple other 9.850-capable vaults to keep this event on track. Kopec is an option, but ideally she'll be a backup to the Emmas (Slappey and Engler), or perhaps Krippner or Phillips, all of whom should be in the running. The wildcard is Abby Milliet, who did not vault last season but had a DTY as recently as two years ago and could be quite the vaulter if she's physically able to do AA in college. Milliet could be the factor that turns Auburn's vault from good to excellent. But mostly, they just don't want to be stuck using a 9.750-9.775 (which is going to happen to plenty of teams this year), undermining the gains Atkinson can make with her 1.5.
On bars, Auburn could take a hit this year without Megan Walker. Last season, they were a little 49.200, often doing the 9.8-9.8-9.8-9.8-9.9-9.9 dance with Walker and Atkinson getting those 9.9s to bring the score up to acceptable levels. They'll still have Atkinson to do that, but this lineup needs more than one likely 9.9 to be competitive. I'm looking to Abby Milliet. She eventually worked her way into form last season, enough to get some 9.850s on bars and beam by the end, but she is precise enough to be a regular 9.9er. As a group, the freshmen aren't really bars workers and aren't so much with the form, so that's cause for some concern about depth here. Samantha Cerio is the exception and could be a standout bars worker. Auburn will need Atkinson, Milliet, and Cerio all firing to make bars an asset event, rather than an event to endure this season.
The main issue I noticed keeping Auburn's bars scores at pedestrian levels in several meets last year was landing the dismounts. Too many steps to expect much more than a 9.800, but when Kluz and Kopec are sticking their DLOs, they have quite clean routines with the potential to contend for more than the low-mid 9.8s they were settling for last season. Ideally, they'll be in the lineup again, leaving one more spot, which could be a problem because at this point, the execution starts getting a little rough and 9.7y. Krippner? Hlawek? A heretofore unknown ghost? This is kind of a trend and feeds back into the worry about Auburn this year. Where are the last one or two 9.8s going to come from?
Beam was a brilliant event for Auburn last year, and while half the lineup is gone now along with Jenny Rowland, the pieces still exist for beam to be an asset that shoots Auburn ahead of other nationals challengers and into a very comfortable ranking. Beam shouldn't be a nail-biting 49.000 for the Tigers. It should be a 49.350.
I've already made my feelings about Caitlin Atkinson's beam dismount clear, but even with the loathed gainer pike in her routine, she's a good bet for a 9.900 and the occasional 9.950 as the most secure worker on the team by a hefty margin. Lexus Demers oozes style all over the arena, so while she's a little more prone to wobble her way down to a 9.800 from time to time, she should also get her fair share of 9.900s. Milliet will also be there, with the same note as on bars. She worked her way up to 9.825s last year, but she can be another 9.9er if she cuts down the wobbleburgers.
After those three, the lineup will need a little bit of a renovation, though not necessarily entirely from freshmen. MJ Rott is quite appealing on beam, but she hasn't been in the lineup a lot almost entirely because of consistency. It's not that her routine can get a little 9.825; it's that it can get a little 9.100. With all the lost routines, however, there's a bit more onus on her to make this routine believable for the team. Cerio is also supposed to be good on beam, Krippner is a JO beam champion, and Engler is a believable choice, so a bunch of people could get time in order to figure out the most consistent options. On this event, certainly more than on bars, there is a reassuringly complete contingent of possible replacement routines.
A couple years ago, Auburn made a name for itself with its revolutionary ALL THE PIKED FULL INS floor strategy. It was effective in making the team stand out and developing an identity, though pulling back on that difficulty a little bit and focusing on, you know, not landing in a triangle shape ended up boosting the team score a tenth or so. The team does, however, still show a respectable number of E passes and should be able to bring home a couple 9.9s per meet as long as everyone's body is in the correct number of pieces (hint: it's one). Atkinson, obviously. We've covered that territory. Rott has also been in and out of the floor lineup over her career with injury, but when she's in, she's probably next-best behind Atkinson and can stock up on a few 9.9s herself.
Many of the other options from last season should also return, including Kluz and Demers who can consistently bring in 9.850s, and Hlawek, who was a surprise for me last season and ended up competing in the 5th spot much of the year for high scores. I assume Auburn will be happy to bring back all five of those routines, though they have lost depth options from Kadous, Webster, and Walker. The freshmen will need to bring at least one sure lineup routine along with some backups that can get reasonable scores when inevitable injuries occur. I like Emma Slappey, who had a high full-in during JO, as the most likely to keep the beat going, but Engler and Krippner will also be choices. There are enough high scores and backup options to make this a realistically 49.350-49.400 lineup when the best people are performing.