LSU’s Rheagan Courville shares another NCAA vault title

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — On the day after helping secure the best national team finish in program history, four members of the LSU gymnastics team returned to BJCC Arena on Sunday with an eye on individual honors.

Just 18 hours after helping their team to a third-place finish in the Super Six finals, those four Tigers didn’t disappoint.

University High graduate Rheagan Courville, a junior, shared the vault title for the second year in a row and tied for fifth on bars, and freshman Sydney Ewing tied for third on beam.

Sophomore Jessica Savona was eighth on floor exercise, and Ashleigh Gnat, another freshman, finished 12th on vault to put a wrap on perhaps the most satisfying season of coach D-D Breaux’s 37-year career.

Courville, who tied Arkansas’ Katherine Grable for the vault title with a score of 9.975, also tied for sixth in the all-around competition during Friday’s national semifinals with a score of 39.525.

The vault that tied Grable came just after Courville tied for fifth with a 9.875 on bars, which was running concurrently with vault. So she had only a little time to rest and think about what she had to do to defend her title.

Grable posted a 9.875 as the second competitor in the order, but Courville said she only glanced around at a few scores before getting on the vault runway.

“I was just kind of looking around the arena, but I wasn’t hyper-focused on scores or results,” she said. “I was thinking about being in the right positions and just to do the things I needed to set me up for a good landing.”

She stuck her landing and was able to match Grable’s score, which was the highest vault mark in the NCAA individual event finals. Courville became the first repeat vault champion since Alabama’s Ashley Miles in 2003 and 2004.

“I think the difference in Rheagan’s vault was the distance, because there were so many vaults that were stuck so strong,” Breaux said. “To go back-to-back on vaulting is hard because it’s such a tough event. The girl she tied with last year (Alabama’s Diandra Milliner) didn’t even make the vault final this time. It’s hard to get in them, and then you find it hard to win with the level of competition.”

The individual title was LSU’s fourth on vault and 10th overall in program history. LSU became the eighth school in NCAA history to have double-digit individual national titles.

Courville, LSU’s first two-time national champion on vault, tied Ashleigh Clare-Kearney for career individual titles and is now just one away from knotting Susan Jackson for the most in school history.

“This is amazing,” she said. “I feel so much pride being able to bring this back to LSU. My team put forth so much effort into this season and so much heart, and it feels good to come out with something to be proud of.”

Shortly after the competitors went to the beam and floor exercise, Ewing, a walk-on from Lafayette, completed a solid performance for the weekend with a 9.8875. She had a 9.90 in Friday’s national semifinals and a 9.875 in the Super Six finals.

“I was definitely nervous, but it was a different kind of nervous than Friday and Saturday because that was for the team,” Ewing said. “I just wanted to be able to do the routine I know I can do. At the same time, I was just so happy to even be there.”

Savona closed the season for the Tigers with a 9.90 performance on floor, which nearly matched her season high of 9.925.

“Today was relaxing; there was no stress or anything,” she said. “There was nothing from the coaches, nothing from ourselves. It was a chance to go have fun and do what we normally do. Floor is one of my favorite events, and I got to dance and show off a little bit.”

It was so relaxing that Gnat, who usually does a full twist in team competition, tried a 11/2 twist and couldn’t stick her landing, scoring a 9.825.

“There was really no reason not to do it,” a smiling Gnat said. “There was no pressure or anything for the team. I decided to go big, so I went really big and stepped really big. But it was definitely worth the risk. It was cool.”