LSU gymnastics finishes third at NCAA championships

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — If LSU couldn’t win its first NCAA gymnastics title, the Tigers found the next-best thing in their fourth Super Six finals appearance Saturday night.

There was a silver lining of sorts when the Tigers, who entered the NCAA postseason as the No. 3 seed two weeks ago, scored a 197.600 to place third behind Oklahoma and Florida — who shared the title with scores of 198.175.

Alabama, which had a chance to win the team title before having two falls on the final event — the beam — and having to count one, was a disappointing fourth with a 197.550. Georgia (197.050) and Nebraska (196.500) followed.

The third-place finish for LSU was the highest at nationals in school history, bettering its fourth-place performance in 1988 under the sport’s old scoring rules. The Tigers’ previous best in the Super Six was fifth in 2008 and ’13.

As Oklahoma and 2013 champion Florida celebrated in the middle of BJCC Arena, LSU coach D-D Breaux gave a congratulatory nod to the Sooners, who came close several times before finally breaking through Saturday.

“You’ve got to hang around for a number of years, which Oklahoma has done in coming close over the years,” Breaux said, perhaps envisioning the day her program can break through. “You have to have that maturity and the mental wherewithal to win this thing.

“We wanted to win it, but I’m very happy and very excited for these kids tonight. I’m happy with the consistency we showed all year long, and this is our highest finish ever.”

Breaux’s team scored at least 197 for the 13th consecutive competition, extending the school mark top-ranked LSU set earlier this season. The Tigers also broke the school record three times — the last of which was a 198.325 they posted in the NCAA regionals April 5.

Their final score Saturday night was a half-point higher than the 197.100 the Tigers scored in Friday’s national semifinals. That score still gave them the third and last Super Six berth from the first of two semifinal sessions.

LSU had four solid scores Saturday night, opening with a 49.400 on bars and earning a 49.375 on beam before going to their first of two byes.

Their best score of the two-day meet came when the Tigers put up a 49.550 on floor exercise before finishing with a 49.325 on vault — but still was .675 short of Oklahoma, with which they split two meetings this season — and Florida.

“I thought we had as good a meet as this team could have,” Breaux said. “But you think about the tenths (of a point) that we left behind. It was just some little things here and there, like not sticking vault landings the way we can.

“We were great on floor and we were super on beam, we did all we could there,” she added. “We just could have used some better vault landings. We made a big step from Friday, so this was a huge step in the right direction for this program.”

All-American Rheagan Courville, a junior who qualified Friday for two individual event finals to be held Sunday, led LSU on Saturday night with an all-around score of 39.550.

Courville produced a 9.95 on floor exercise — tying her season’s best — and put up 9.90s on beam and vault. She also had a 9.80 on bars in the Tigers’ first rotation of the competition.

“This feels amazing,” Courville said. “We have nothing to be upset about, and we have everything to be happy and proud about. After Friday, we gave our heart and soul to that performance tonight.

“The key tonight was being consistent. We had been consistent all season long, which was what really kept us in the race for the national championship.”

With Courville and Lloimincia Hall cranking out 9.95s on floor, their third rotation, the Tigers put up their 49.550 as they tried to stay with Alabama, Florida and Oklahoma.

Still, LSU appeared destined for a fourth-place finish at that point when it scored only a 49.325 on vault in its final rotation before its second bye.

That meant it could only watch as Alabama tried to nail down the title.

But with many fans in red and white rooting on Alabama, the Crimson Tide suffered falls at the top and bottom of their beam lineup.

They had to count a 9.35 (a 9.30 was thrown out), which dropped them from first to fourth and allowed the Tigers to climb one spot to third while they were sitting on the sideline.

Courville and freshman Ashleigh Gnat tied for the team lead in vault with 9.90s, while senior Sarie Morrison led the way on bars with a 9.925 in the final competition of her career.

Courville and Jessie Jordan had matching 9.90s at the bottom of LSU’s beam lineup, while Courville and Hall had the Tigers’ highest scores on floor at 9.95 each.

“We’re excited because it takes teams years and years to get to the Super Six here, and we’ve only been here four times,” said senior Kaleigh Dickson, who competed despite a painful right foot injury. “We fought the whole time with great routines, great energy and consistency.”

Courville will compete in the vault and bars individual event finals Sunday. She’ll be joined by Gnat on vault, freshman Sydney Ewing on beam and sophomore Jessica Savona on floor.

“We’re definitely excited about our performance,” Morrison said. “Obviously, first would have been better, but we were fifth last year. It’s hard ending the meet on a bye and having to watch, but we beat Alabama. It’s still a pretty good ending to a great year.”