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'Room to grow' - Auburn gymnasts host Arkansas Friday
Kelsey Kopec celebrates after completing her winning bars routine in Auburn's meet against Alabama in Birmingham.
Feb. 2, 2017

By Jeff Shearer

AUBURN, Ala. - Auburn’s lineup was already set last Friday at Florida when junior Abby Milliet was injured in warmups, forcing coach Jeff Graba to adopt a “next gymnast up” approach.

“I think we have to be patient, because anybody who’s filling in for somebody as seasoned as Abby is going to probably have some room to grow,” Graba said. “Very exciting to see some of these people stepping in.”

“We have a lot of talent on our team,” redshirt freshman Emma Slamppey said. “A lot of depth. So it wasn’t as hard as last year, but we miss Abby a lot. It was unfortunate what happened to her. In our sport, people get injured. One man down, the next man has to step up. That’s just how it went on Friday, and I think we handled it really well.”

Graba is not expecting Milliet to be available Friday at 7 p.m. when No. 17 Auburn hosts No. 24 Arkansas.

“I always prepare for the worst and hope for the best, so we’re preparing that we’re going to go without her and we’re going to see what happens,” Graba said. “If she’s capable of coming back in, then it’s going to be a pleasant surprise.”

Freshman Kendal Moss filled in for Milliet on bars, scoring a 9.7 in her debut.

Auburn scored a season-high 196.4 against Florida, the start of a four-day, two-meet road trip.

Two days later, the Tigers led Alabama going into the final event at the Elevate the Stage meet in Birmingham, before counting multiple falls on beam and scoring 194.675.

“We did seven events the right way,” Graba said. “All we did was mess one up. I think what you saw on Sunday, this young group, they’re not good at being a leader. They’re not good at being a front-runner. They’re good at chasing. And they’re pretty good at adversity. We ended up with a lot of adversity on Friday night and had our season high.



“We came out storming on Sunday and I thought we were going in the right direction and when it became apparent to them that they could do something special with it, they decided they didn’t really want that. In the end, we’ve got to battle the demons in the head more than anything else.”

Fifth-year senior Kelsey Kopec sparked Auburn in Sunday’s first event, winning bars with a 9.875.

“It was really exciting. I definitely wasn’t expecting it,” she said. “I’ve just been working really hard in the gym to really get after my handstands and go after a big landing. Then they called my name and I was like, ‘Wow, this is really cool.’”

Kopec said it’s a big relief to return to Auburn Arena after being gone 8 days in a 12-day span.

“We’ll be excited to be back at home in front of our own crowd,” she said.

To allow Auburn’s gymnasts to recover from last weekend’s physical toll, the Tigers practiced only once this week.

“Seeing some of our teammates go down is obviously not the easiest thing to bounce back from,” Kopec said. “We have another meet coming up so the team is working really hard to come together. People need to step up in places where they wouldn’t normally compete.”

Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at Follow him on Twitter:

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