LSU gymnasts one meet away from first national title _lowres

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- LSU coach D-D Breaux

With a tough week of work behind them, the fourth-ranked LSU gymnastics team returned to practice Monday with only one thing in mind: Winning the program’s first national championship.

It could have been an even tougher week, considering the Tigers had to work through spring break, but a chance at the sport’s ultimate prize certainly took precedence after getting close a year ago with a third-place national finish.

“Last week was a lot of fun,” sophomore all-arounder Ashleigh Gnat said. “It was nice to have some time off (from classes), but we came in every day and focused on what we had to do, and that was to get mentally and physically ready.”

LSU coach D-D Breaux put a new twist on her team’s preparations for the NCAA championships, which begin with the national semifinals Friday night at the Fort Worth Convention Center.

The Tigers mimicked this week’s schedule, complete with a Thursday night team meal and continuing with a practice competition Friday and Saturday to prepare them for what they’ll face.

“We’ve done that before, but we probably didn’t put as much emphasis on it as we did this year,” Breaux said Monday. “We practiced the semifinals and team finals, trying to impress on them the process. We wanted them to stay in the moment and the process we want them to achieve in order to do that.”

LSU competes in the second semifinal session at 7 p.m. Friday against No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 5 Alabama, No. 8 Auburn, No. 9 Nebraska and No. 12 Oregon State.

The top three teams advance to the Super Six finals Saturday night along with the top three finishers from Friday’s first semifinal featuring No. 2 Florida, No. 3 Utah, No. 6 Michigan, No. 7 UCLA, No. 10 Georgia and No. 11 Stanford.

Buoyed by the fact that they’ll have their usual rotation they have for home meets — vault, bars, beam and floor exercise — Breaux said her team was excited to be “competing” with spring break in full swing.

“They were excited about it,” Breaux said. “There were some kinks in the armor that we had to work out; just some little spots, little things that could be question marks in a real competition.”

More importantly, it gave Breaux and her staff a chance to see some backups in certain spots and have them ready if needed.

“We’ve got some very, very good backups,” Breaux said. “We know they’re ready; what we didn’t know is if they’re ready to handle it with the pressure on.”

That’s extremely important because All-American Rheagan Courville, who did not compete on floor exercise in the Tigers’ win at the NCAA Ames regional April 4, is still having trouble with a right ankle injury.

“We think she could be ready for Friday, because all indications are that she’s responded very well to treatments,” Breaux said. “There’s a spot with a lot of pain, and it’s just bone on bone, some wear and tear on the joint.

“Rheagan has a high tolerance for pain, and she’s highly motivated. So we’ll let her try something different in practice (Monday and Tuesday) and see how it goes.”