No. 11 Auburn gears up for road test at No. 17 Kentucky


There’s something different about this year’s Auburn gymnastics team. The Tigers are 4-0 for the first time in program history. Three of the wins came against top-10 teams. They’re ranked No. 11 nationally. And most importantly, they’re having fun.

“It’s incredible,” senior Taylor Krippner said. “This is the season that I’ve been waiting for. This is my fourth year, and I’ve never experienced something so fun and enjoyable team as far as gymnastics goes. This team dynamic – I couldn’t ask for anything better.

“The talent has always been there. Granted, we’re still very talented and that definitely plays a part. But as far as having fun and everything, I think that’s all about the team dynamic. Everyone just loves each other, everyone is committed, and no one really fears the challenge anymore. We’re just excited to conquer it.”

The next challenge facing Auburn is a trip to No. 17 Kentucky on Friday. It’s been almost 10 years since the Tigers last won in Lexington, and like Auburn, the Wildcats are coming off their season-high score (196.650) at Florida last weekend.

“We have to be good on the road, and this one will prepare us,” Auburn head coach Jeff Graba said. “They’ll have a bunch of people there. I’m sure they’ll get a good crowd. And I’m pretty sure they won’t be wanting us to win. Other than that, we have to do our thing, and I think the girls are really bought into their bubble and staying focused and all that good stuff.

“To me, I look at it as an opportunity and a test. I think they’re in a really good spot right now.”

The Kentucky gymnastics team is coming off its highest score of the season, a 196.650, at Florida last weekend. Though the Wildcats lost the meet, Katie Stuart (bars) and Mollie Korth (floor) both won individual event titles.

The week before Kentucky knocked off Arkansas in its first and only home meet of the season to this point. The Wildcats posted a 195.275, and Korth – a regular-season All-American a year ago – took the home the all-around title with a 39.200.

Korth, now a junior, joins an experienced Kentucky squad that has every routine back but three from a 2018 team that advanced to the NCAA Championships for the first time in program history.

Auburn is 42-45 all-time against Kentucky and its last win in the series came in 2016 when the Tigers won the head-to-head meeting at home and also finished with a higher score at the SEC Championship.

Auburn has the advantage at home (14-7) and at neutral sites (24-21), but the Tigers have struggled on the road in the series with a 4-17 mark all-time in Lexington.

Despite a 4-0 start to the season, Auburn is still trying to find the optimal lineup before the beginning of postseason play. That means changes on different events and changes to certain routines as some of the gymnasts look to increase the difficulty level.

The coaches also want to be sure the team is fresh for postseason, which means they will give certain gymnasts a rest at certain meets. This week, that group includes Abby Milliet. The fifth-year senior is a mainstay on bars, beam and floor, but she will only compete on beam against Kentucky.

The Tigers will begin the meet on bars, and taking the place of Milliet in the lineup is Katie Becker. The junior will be making her season debut on the event.

Sophomore Drew Watson will once again lead off for Auburn on bars and is followed by Becker, Taylor Krippner, Samantha Cerio, Derrian Gobourne and Gracie Day. Day, who has been the anchor on the event in every meet this season, is tied for fourth in the region and 35th nationally with a 9.856 average. She earned a team-high 9.875 against Georgia.

The second rotation for the Tigers will be on vault where they posted a season-high 49.250 in their last meet and moved up to No. 9 nationally.

For the first time all season, senior A’Miracal Phillips will move up and serve as the lead after scoring a season-high 9.825 last week. Then it will be Krippner, Day, Gobourne, Watson and sophomore Jada Glenn. Krippner made her debut on vault last week with a 9.875.

Auburn will move to floor next, and sophomore Ashley Smith is back in the lineup and set to go first. She’ll be followed by juniors Emma Slappey and Skyler Sheppard, who will each move back one spot. Then it will be Watson, Cerio and Gobourne, who will anchor floor for the first time this season.

Last week Gobourne, the SEC Freshman of the Week, posted her second 9.950 on floor this season.

The Tigers will close on beam where Slappey will make her season debut on the event and slide in behind Watson at the No. 2 spot. The rest of the lineup is the same as the week before with Gobourne, Sheppard, Milliet and Meredith Sylvia in that order.

Sylvia, who is tied for 50th nationally on beam, finished with a team-high 9.875 last week to help Auburn score a 49.175 against Georgia. Sylvia earned a 9.925 on the event to open the season against Iowa.

Fresh off one road trip, Auburn will make another one next week to Gainesville where the Tigers will match up against No. 2 Florida on Friday, Feb. 8. The meet is scheduled for 6 p.m. CT and will be televised on SEC Network.

Categories: Alabama Sports, Sports