It was a sell-out crowd, the biggest in program history.
It was Senior Night, and all the emotion that implies.
And it was yet another “10” from an LSU junior who has made them almost commonplace this season.
In short, the glitter ball that is LSU gymnastics turned into a wrecking ball Friday night, and No. 3 Alabama ended up being not so much competition as in the way.
Before a school record 13,296 fans in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, the No. 4 Tigers put an emphatic end to their third straight undefeated home season by steamrolling the Crimson Tide 197.925-196.225, a lopsided score by gymnastics standards.
Junior Ashleigh Gnat led the way yet again. The final routine of LSU’s home campaign was her perfect 10 on floor, Gnat’s fourth such score this season and second in this event.
Gnat, who entered the meet ranked first nationally on vault and tied for first on floor, competed in all four events for the first time in a month and won the night’s all-around title as well with a score of 39.625.
“There’s definitely not a feeling,” Gnat said when asked if she knows she may have done a 10-worthy routine. “It’s just going out there and doing what you can for the team, having the whole team behind you and having a big crowd. It was so much excitement, really.”
On a night when gymnastics had to compete on LSU’s campus with baseball, softball and tennis, fans filled the PMAC and roared their approval time and again — even booing judges for giving Gnat a score of 9.850 on uneven bars, her lowest mark of the night.
The Tigers (10-2, 6-1 Southeastern Conference), coming off a 197.900-197.875 win at No. 2 Florida last week with the program’s highest road score ever, seemed elevated by the crowd in their performances.
“What you’re seeing is the precision and level of skills that is a tribute to our seniors,” coach D-D Breaux said. “They said, ‘We want to do more.’ They have a tremendous amount of drive and leadership.”
In all, LSU gymnasts set or tied seven career- and season-high marks.
“It was definitely all I could have imagined and more,” said Randii Wyrick, one of LSU’s three seniors. She tied a career high with a 9.925 on bars.
“Stepping out to see 13,000 fans cheer us on is one of the best feelings ever. To see that fan base grow each year is an amazing feeling.”
Gnat credited Wyrick with encouraging her to add a “dab” move to the end of her floor routine.
“Randii is the dab master,” Gnat said with a laugh.
LSU saved its best for last, piling up a 49.625 on floor that included a career-high tying 9.950 for senior and former Canadian Olympian Jessica Savona.
Another Olympian, American gymnastics legend Mary Lou Retton, strapped on an SEC Network headset during daughter McKenna Kelley’s floor routine and joined fellow 1984 Olympians Bart Conner and Kathy Johnson-Clarke on the call. When Kelley finished, posting a 9.900, Retton flung her arms in the air in delight.
Savona said she didn’t focus on it being her last meet as much as it was another milestone on the road to LSU’s important championship meets to come.
“Tonight was about the team and taking one more step forward toward the goal of the end of the season,” Savona said.
LSU has now knocked off the No. 1, 2 and 3 team in this week’s gymnastics rankings: No. 1 Oklahoma on Jan. 9, No. 2 Florida last week and now Bama.
What was a highly anticipated showdown between two of the nation’s best teams turned out to be no contest.
Alabama (8-5, 3-4), coming off four straight team scores of 197.250 or higher, was off from the start, bobbling landings and being forced to count a 9.300 on beam after two gymnasts fell.
“I hate it for the LSU fans,” Alabama coach Dana Duckworth said. “You want a tight competition, like you’ll see in the SEC championships. We’re not going to make any excuses. We’ll just move forward.”
LSU wraps up the regular season on the road next Friday with a four-team meet in Denton, Texas, against Texas Woman’s, New Hampshire and Oregon State. After that, it’s off to the SEC championships, March 19 in North Little Rock, Arkansas.