DENTON, Texas — Ashleigh Gnat isn’t running on autopilot.
It only seems that way.
LSU’s junior gymnastics star took flawless to a new level Saturday night, recording yet another 10.0 in the floor exercise to lead the Tigers to a victory in a quad meet at Texas Woman’s University’s Kitty Magee Arena.
The Tigers, now 13-2 and ranked third nationally, posted a score of 197.825 — third third-best of the season — as they head into next week’s SEC championship in Little Rock, Arkansas. Oregon State was second at 196.55, followed by New Hampshire (193.8) and Texas Woman’s (193.0).
The perfect score was Gnat’s second in as many meets, her third in the past four weeks and her fifth of the season, shattering April Burkholder’s 2004 school record of four.
Even so, she said, she doesn’t go into her routines feeling locked in on perfection.
“I wouldn’t say I’m on complete autopilot,” said Gnat, who also won the vault with a 9.95. “Before I go, the coaches just tell me to be myself and have fun. Nothing more, nothing less. And I have little things I tell myself throughout the routine, like before my double layout I tell myself to squeeze on the takeoff and prepare to land.”
Gnat, who leads the nation in 10s, doesn’t look like she’s ready to come down anytime soon. She has three 10s on the floor and two in the vault, and coach D-D Breaux said she’s capable of scoring one on the balance beam, too.
“She’s kind of in high hear,” Breaux said. “The key for us is to be able to bring her down emotionally this week and prepare for the SEC meet as though it was just another meet, and to go in and have a good time. She has to understand the expectation is only to do what she can, not to go out there and get a 10 every time.
“I don’t want her to look beyond the performance and skill she’s doing at the moment. We don’t want her to feel pressure or to feel like she’s carrying this team.”
Indeed, she had plenty of help Saturday. LSU gymnasts took the first five places in the vault and the top six on the floor.
Freshman Sarah Finnegan won the uneven bars with a 9.90 and tied Oregon State’s Kaytianna McMillan for the beam title at 9.95, and fellow freshman Lexie Priessman returned after missing three weeks with foot and ankle injuries to tie her career high on the bars with a 9.925.
“I feel 100 percent confident in my gymnastics,” Preissman said. “I wouldn’t say my body feels 100 percent, but if I need to do it for the team, I’ll do anything for this team.”
And that team is competing at its highest level as it enters the postseason, having recorded its four best scores of the season in the past four meets. While Saturday’s event seemed a prime spot for a letdown — a nonconference meet on the road with the SEC Championship on the horizon — the Tigers came up big.
“We really looked forward to this meet to practice the rotation we’re going to have at the SECs — bars, beam, floor and vault,” Breaux said. “Our focus was to maintain the momentum we’ve created since the middle of the season and take advantage of this opportunity to compete in a rotation order we have not competed in all season long.”
If the Tigers have momentum as a group, Gnat is surely riding that wave individually.
And those two things, Breaux said, are linked.
“She’s a cut above because she is so totally about the team,” Breaux said. “She is truly the heartbeat of this team. Randii Wyrick is the spirit and emotion of the team, but Ashleigh Gnat is the one who can bring them together and slow them down.”