Second-ranked LSU takes aim at elusive SEC championship

The LSU gymnastics team hasn’t won the title in the Southeastern Conference Championships since the league’s inaugural meeting back in 1981.

Over the past 32 seasons, Georgia and Alabama, and, more recently Florida, have dominated the conference as well as the national scene.

But after completing what may be the most successful season in school history, longtime coach D-D Breaux and her athletes say this could be the year the Tigers return to the top spot on the awards stand.

LSU will find out at 6 p.m. Saturday when the Tigers, who are second in the GymInfo national rankings this week after holding down the top spot since Feb. 24, participate in Session II of the SEC Championships in BJCC Arena in Birmingham, Ala.

The four lower-seeded teams will compete in Session I at 2 p.m. Saturday, while top-ranked Florida, the reigning NCAA champion, matches up with No. 2 LSU, No. 4 Alabama and No. 6 Georgia in the evening session.

LSU, which scored a school-record 198.050 in a win against Missouri on Feb. 28, has scored at least 197.000 in its past nine meets — another school mark — and has reached that 10 times in 11 competitions.

“We have as good a chance as any of the other three teams on the floor with us,” said Breaux, who is in her 37th season.

She’s confident even though LSU, which defeated Alabama at home, lost on the road to Florida and Georgia.

The reason is consistency.

The Tigers scored a 197.625 at Florida and 197.650 in topping Alabama and still had a 196.875 in falling to Georgia.

They also approached the 198.000 mark at the Metroplex Challenge and at home last week against Kentucky and defeated third-ranked Oklahoma on the road less than 48 hours after a hard-fought win at Arkansas.

But Breaux said the conference meet is something else, more, in fact, like an mini-NCAA meet.

“We’re going to have to do our best to win,” she said. “We’re going to have to get very close to 198 to win it. We’ve done that once and we’ve beaten some people, and some people have beaten us. But the thing is we have been so consistent.

“All we’re going to ask the kids is to go out there and have fun. If they’re relaxed and having a good time and playing off each other, they’ll have another good performance.”

Led by all-around stars Rheagan Courville, Jessie Jordan and Kaleigh Dickson, who rank second, sixth and 14th in the nation, respectively, the Tigers have been steady all season long.

Which is a big relief for Breaux.

“It’s a great sense of relief. … The good thing about this team is it hasn’t been on a roller-coaster,” she said. “We haven’t had to have a hard message of pushing or motivating them.”

Courville ranks sixth in vault, eighth on bars and ninth on floor exercise, while Jordan is fifth on beam. Sarie Morrison is fourth on bars and ninth in vault and Lloimincia Hall is fourth on floor.

After having three consecutive home meets to close out the regular season as the nation’s No. 1 team, Breaux is eager to see if the Tigers can get back on point.

“In the last three meets at home, the pressure has not been on them and we’ve seen them kind of take a breath and back up a little bit,” she said. “We need more intensity, more of an edge. I think this team rises to the occasion when the competition is tougher.

“You want to do your best at this meet and if our best is good enough to win, then we’re going to feel real good about that. But the main thing is to go in and do our best. We just have to put the blinders on and not be concerned about what’s going on around us.”