BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — In its previous visit to BJCC Arena, the LSU gymnastics team walked out of the building with a less-than-fulfilling third-place performance in the Southeastern Conference championships in March.
But Friday, third place was good enough in the NCAA championships.
Needing only to finish in the top three of the six-team semifinal Session I to earn a spot in Saturday night’s Super Six finals, the top-ranked Tigers took third with a score of 197.100 — their second-lowest score of the season.
While the score was more than a full point lower than the school-record 198.325 that LSU blew out in winning its NCAA regional April 5, the objective Friday was to advance.
“We did what we needed to do, and that was really all we could ask for at this point,” said Rheagan Courville, who was second in the all-around competition with a score of 39.525. “We didn’t need a huge performance. … We just needed to qualify for (Super Six). I think we have a lot left in us.”
LSU will be joined in the finals by Oklahoma, which won the first semifinal session with a 197.500, and Georgia, which was second with a 197.300.
LSU appeared to have a lock on the second spot until Georgia scored a 49.450 on floor exercise, while the Tigers were scoring a 49.175 on beam in their final rotation. Stanford (196.600), Michigan (196.425) and Illinois (195.800) didn’t advance.
Defending NCAA champion Florida and Alabama tied atop the six-team field in Friday night’s Session II. Each team posted a 197.650; the Gators won the title on a tiebreaker. Nebraska joined them in the Super Six with a 197.100.
The final day of competition starts at 6 p.m. Saturday.
While LSU comfortably beat Stanford by a half-point for the third and final spot, coach D-D Breaux had conflicted feelings. She was happy to advance but not overjoyed by the score after sensing early that it wasn’t going to be easy.
“LSU was the tightest it’s been all season long,” she said. “I think they were feeling the emotion and pressure in having to get to the next night. With that being done, we’re going to try and have a loose evening and let the kids unwind and relax and prepare for (Saturday).
“We’re really excited to advance, but we did it the hard way. We’re looking forward to (Saturday night) and doing it better.”
LSU is in the Super Six finals for the fourth time in school history and the second year in a row. The Tigers also earned finals spots in 2008 and ’09, but their highest finish since the inception of the Super Six finals in 1993 was fifth in 2008 and 2013.
In order to improve on that, as well as Friday’s score, Breaux will be looking for more help from the heavy hitters at the bottom of her lineup.
While Courville was second in the all-around, she had uncharacteristically low scores on beam (9.875) and floor exercise (9.850), which were sandwiched around 9.90s on vault and beam.
Jessie Jordan tied for fourth in the all-around with a 39.225, with her best score a 9.850 on vault.
Like Courville, Jordan thinks the best is yet to come for the Tigers — much like the school record they scored in the regionals after their disappointing finish at the SEC championships.
“We’re not hanging our heads low or anything because we still have a competition (Saturday night), and being in the Super Six is incredible in itself,” Jordan said. “(To) advance was the most important thing, and I think because today wasn’t our best, (Saturday) will be better.”
LSU opened on floor exercise with a 49.350 and moved to vault, where the Tigers posted another 49.350. Freshman Ashleigh Gnat scored a pair of 9.90s, tying Courville on vault and trailing only Jessica Savona, who had a 9.925, on floor.
Kaleigh Dickson, who suffered a foot injury in the regionals and was limited to two events Friday, delivered a 9.850 on bars along with Sarie Morrison, while Courville led the way with a 9.90 to help the Tigers to a 49.225.
Freshman Sydney Ewing then produced a team-best 9.90 on beam to finish things off, although LSU had only a 49.175 on the apparatus as Courville and Jordan had scores of 9.875 and 9.750 at the bottom of the lineup.
Even floor exercise anchor Lloimincia Hall, who has three 10.0s this season and five in her career, struggled with a 9.850 and also had a 9.80 on beam.
Courville qualified for the vault and bars in the individual event finals Sunday. She’ll be joined by Gnat on vault, Ewing on beam and Savona on floor — who helped carry the day at the front of Breaux’s lineup.
“We didn’t have falls; we had mental lapses, and the kids were looking beyond where they were supposed to be looking,” she said. “They didn’t stay in the process, and they didn’t do what they’ve done all year long to get us here.”
They’ll get another shot at it Saturday night.