Long before coaching the first of her four athletes to earn Southeastern Conference Gymnast of the Year honors, D-D Breaux spotted a young star in the making.
The best part was Breaux didn’t have to go far to find this one, although she would’ve gladly gone to greater lengths to get talents like April Burkholder, Ashleigh Clare-Kearney and Susan Jackson to come to LSU to be a part of the Tigers’ program.
In this case, Breaux found Rheagan Courville right in LSU’s own back yard.
The only problem was Breaux had to wait. And wait. And wait some more on Courville, a Baton Rouge native who wound up at University High School even though it didn’t have a gymnastics team.
“We’ve been watching Rheagan since she was 6 years old,” Breaux said Wednesday. “We knew then that she was one of those extremely talented young gymnasts, definitely one you would want to keep in state.
“She just had that ‘wow’ factor,” she recalled. “Rheagan had that extreme waif-like body, and a lot of flexibility and natural strength. And she had those gazelle legs that just popped off the floor.”
That was five years before Burkholder became the first LSU athlete to be voted SEC Gymnast of the Year by league coaches in 2004. She repeated in 2005 before being joined by Clare-Kearney in 2008 and Jackson in 2010.
Courville, a sophomore, added her name to that talented group two weeks ago when she claimed the SEC’s top honor. She was recognized the day before claiming her ninth all-around title of the season, which leads the nation, at the SEC Championships.
Even though she’s a longtime LSU fan and a follower of the gymnastics program for years, Courville didn’t realize she had earned the fifth SEC Gymnast of the Year honor for Breaux’s team in 10 seasons.
“I actually had no idea, but it does say so much about our program and so much about our coaching staff,” Courville said. “We’ve had some amazing gymnasts compete here, and to keep the tradition going is an amazing honor for me.”
The SEC coaches knew what they were doing when they chose Courville.
One night later she won the vault with a perfect 10.0, the first of her career, and also tied for first on the beam at 9.95 en route to tying Florida’s Bridget Sloan for the all-around title with a career-high 39.750 score.
Courville’s career night sparked LSU to a third-place finish with the third-highest score in school history, 197.700, and will attempt Saturday to help it reach the NCAA Championships in the NCAA Regional in Columbus, Ohio.
“(The SEC) was our best performance of the year,” said Courville. “We knew it was a big stage, so we just kind of took control of things and took advantage of the opportunity to build on our momentum. That was a breakout meet for us, and it was a great time to do it.”
Because of the consistency of her performance, the 2013 season has also been a breakout season for Courville, who now has 13 all-around titles in two seasons, even though Breaux thought she should’ve been the SEC Freshman of the Year in 2012.
Still, Courville was a first-team All-American in the vault and all-around. She is the first LSU freshman to be a first-team All-American in the all-around and is only the third freshman to earn multiple first-team All-American honors.
Which is why she was worth the long wait for Breaux, who out-dueled perennial NCAA champion Georgia to sign Courville.
“She’s just an all-around gymnast, she does every event equally well,” Breaux said when asked what Courville does best. “She’s one of these kids that’s capable of getting a 10 and is disappointed if she gets a 9.9.”
Courville refined the skills Breaux saw early on and developed into an elite gymnast at two local gyms before being coached for two years at Louisiana Gymnastics Training Center by Jackson, one of LSU’s all-time greats.
Courville, however, has taken it to the next level — especially in 2013.
“It was nice being able to experience everything last year because I knew what to expect this year,” she said. “I used my flaws from last year to help improve this year.
“I really tried to focus on my landings and handstands, just little details, because as a team we don’t have to improve drastically on our skills. We have everything.”