Junior says her team was squarely in ‘the purple zone’
Through three of four rotations in the NCAA regional Saturday night, the LSU gymnastics team was five solid performances away from breaking the school record for a second time this season.
With a top-two finish in the regional and berth in the national semifinals all but locked up at that point, helped minutes earlier by a 10.0 by Lloimincia Hall in the floor exercise, the third-ranked Tigers needed a 49.375 on vault to tie the school mark of 198.050.
But their chances took a hit when Kaleigh Dickson, who leads off, had to scratch after injuring her foot in run-throughs. Because it was too late for LSU coach D-D Breaux to substitute, the Tigers were going to have to count all five scores.
With absolutely no margin for error, LSU came through with a season-high 49.650 to finish with a 198.375 — shattering the school mark set against Missouri on Feb. 28 — delighting 5,915 fans in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
LSU claimed the regional title and advanced to the NCAA championships to be held April 18-20 in Birmingham, Ala. The Tigers will be joined there by Stanford, which scored a 197.275 to finish second in the six-team regional.
LSU’s score of 198.325 matched the highest score in the nation this season, which reigning NCAA champion Florida put up March 7.
“Two teams advance at these competitions, so it’s not about what score you earn but how well you do,” said Breaux, who after the meet was named the NCCentral region coach of the year.
“Tonight, we performed really, really well … about as good as this team is able to compete,” she added. “We competed tonight, and we focused on the process that we followed to get here.”
Consistency has been the theme this season for the Tigers, and it was again Saturday night as they scored at least a 197 for the 11th consecutive competition.
LSU scored a school-record 49.650 on vault, had the second-highest score in program history on beam at 49.600 and posted the third-highest floor exercise with a 49.650.
Competing for the first time since a disappointing third-place finish at the Southeastern Conference championships on March 22, the Tigers were determined to not let anything stop them — even an injury to a key performer — in their bid to get back on track.
Starting on the bars, they scored a 49.425 on 9.90s by Dickson, Randii Wyrick and Sarie Morrison and really took off after that.
Going to the beam, which cost them at the SEC meet, they came up with the performance that Breaux said set the stage for the rest of the night.
Rheagan Courville, who won the all-around title with a 39.725, scored a 9.975 and freshmen Ashleigh Gnat and Sydney Ewing had a 9.950 and 9.90, respectively. Morrison also had a 9.90.
“Bars were fabulous, but under this pressure you have to hit (on beam),” she said. “If you don’t hit, you go home. But beam rocked the house. It really showed the way we train and what we do. The two freshmen in that lineup, they were incredible.”
Floor exercise was next and the Tigers got a 9.950 from Courville after Jessie Jordan and Jessica Savona scored 9.925s. That set up Hall to bring the crowd to its feet with a 10.0 — her third perfect score this season and fifth of her career.
While the crowd was still buzzing over that performance, Dickson injured her foot. But Jordan, who was second in the all-around with a 39.600, had a 9.90 on vault as did Britney Ranzy. Gnat, Morrison and Courville all stuck 9.950s -- with Courville’s score smashing the old school mark on the apparatus as well as team score.
“There wasn’t much pressure,” said Jordan. “When someone falls, someone else has to step in, and that’s exactly what I did. I felt great about stepping up to the plate and performing well.”
By the time Courville anchored, the school mark was all but gone.
“I just had such a great lineup in front of me,” she said. “I was seeing stick after stick after stick. D-D talks about building up momentum, so I was excited seeing them in front of me.”
“Momentum is a very powerful medicine,” Breaux said. The kids started lapping it up, and the crowd got behind them. They grabbed it, and they wouldn’t be denied.”