Kaleigh Dickson’s versatility gives LSU gymnastics options

LSU gymnastics coach D-D Breaux knows exactly what she’s going to get when junior Kaleigh Dickson walks through the door every day for another training session.

After four years, Breaux doesn’t even have to talk to Dickson to know.

“She comes in every day with what we call the ‘Eye of the Tiger,’ ” Breaux said. “It’s like, ‘I’m here and I’m going to get better.’ ”

Those are certainly comforting words to hear for Breaux, who has certainly heard it all in her 36 seasons as the Tigers coach.

It’s that kind of attitude and work ethic that makes it easy for Breaux to use a pen rather than a pencil when putting Dickson’s name anywhere on the lineup card — top, middle or bottom — in all four events.

“Kaleigh has been a great surprise this season,” said Breaux, who’ll be counting heavily on Dickson again Saturday night at the Southeastern Conference Championships in North Little Rock, Ark.

“Her overall commitment to her fitness and approach to her work, both in the gym and the classroom, have been great. She has been that pivotal person in our lineup and has done everything we’ve asked her to do.”

If that means leading off the vault and floor exercise — the sixth-ranked Tigers’ best events — or being in the middle or near the bottom of the lineup on bars and beam, it’s OK with Dickson.

“It’s definitely different for me to switch spots in the lineup like that,” said Dickson, a native of Oldsmar, Fla. “I know I can be that person.

“D-D and my teammates have instilled that confidence in me in practice that I’m capable of doing that. I trust my training enough that I can go in anywhere in the lineup.”

Being the ultimate role player in a star-studded LSU lineup that includes Rheagan Courville, Lloimincia Hall and Sarie Morrison is a huge compliment for Dickson. It certainly hasn’t put any added pressure on her.

The three-time SEC Academic Honor Roll pick has been steady in producing career-high scores this season on three of the four events — vault (9.925), bars (9.90) and beam (9.850) — as well as the all-around (39.375).

“My gymnastics have been getting better and better as the years progressed,” Dickson said. “I just think I have more confidence now. I used to doubt myself, but now when I get on an event I know my coaches and teammates have confidence in me and they have my back.

“It makes it easier to trust your training and be able to get scores higher than in past years,” she said. “But I like the pressure of being anywhere in the lineup because I know the team needs me to hit that routine.”

Actually, being capable of doing that is a huge bonus.

Dickson is just thrilled to be back in the sport after her true freshman season in 2010 was wrecked by a knee injury that could have ended her career.

Just one year later, after being on crutches for three months of an eight-month rehab, she returned and went on to earn second-team All-America honors in the all-around.

“I feel like I bounced back pretty fast considering it was a serious injury and some doctors didn’t know if I would even be able to tumble again,” Dickson said of the injury, which happened a month before the 2010 season. “I was devastated because I had worked so hard in the preseason.”

But as hard as it is for Dickson to say now, there was a bright side to it.

“It made me stronger as a person and made me want to come back stronger to prove to everyone that I would compete again,” she said. “It also made me appreciate gymnastics more.

“It brought me back to when I was little, and I wanted to go to gymnastics every day. It brought back the love of the sport for me, and that’s what made the next season when I competed so great.”

The best thing is it’s still getting better.