For a practice, LSU’s Gymnastics 101 exhibition meet Monday night contained plenty of flashes of the real performances that have made the Tigers a national contender the last two years.
“It’s a great starting point to what we need to bring Jan. 5,” said sophomore all-arounder Kennedi Edney, referring to LSU’s season and home opener against Arkansas. “We can only go up from here.”
Many of the trappings of a regular-season meet were in evidence: a darkened arena as the Tigers marched into the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, flame throwers during introductions and the huge new video scoreboards hovering over the floor that LSU coach D-D Breaux wanted her team to get acclimated to before the scores start counting for real.
“It’s an opportunity for us to be in our competition arena,” Breaux said. “It’s a new team with a lot of new faces, but a lot of All-Americans and returning national champions and SEC champions. We’re proud to be representing LSU.”
An added and unwanted feature, however: the scooter junior McKenna Kelley used to navigate the floor with her teammates after undergoing season-ending Achilles’ tendon surgery in late November.
“I got this for Christmas,” Kelley said of her scooter.
With less than four weeks until their opener, the Tigers were far from a finished product. Before an admission-free crowd of 3,508, there were a few stumbles and aborted dismounts and even a couple of do overs, like when Erin Macadaeg restarted on uneven bars after her glove slipped. Assistant coach Jay Moore spotted some of the gymnasts on their landings, ready to help them stay on their feet if needed.
But there were also a lot of sharp routines and exceptional skills, starting with senior all-arounder Myia Hambrick’s 9.95s in the evening’s final three events: uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise.
“I think we’re about 90 percent there,” Hambrick said.
“If this is our baseline, I’m excited about what we can do.”
With Kelley sidelined and NCAA floor champion Ashleigh Gnat now a graduate assistant coach, Edney moved into anchor position as LSU’s sixth and final competitor on floor. She turned in a technically impressive performance, though it was only scored a 9.85 by the lone judge scoring the meet.
“I’m ready for any challenge,” said Edney, the 2017 NCAA vault champion. She scored a 9.90 as she anchored that apparatus as well.
Senior Erin Macadaeg also had a pair of 9.90s on vault and beam, while junior all-arounder Sarah Finnegan had 9.90s on beam, an event that looks like it could be an LSU strength once again, and floor.
Four of the Tigers’ seven freshmen also took part as competitors and as exhibition gymnasts: Christina Desiderio, Reagan Campbell, Sami Durante and Sarah Edwards. Edwards had one of the top scores of the group with a 9.85 on vault.
“We’re not focused on scores,” Breaux said. “We’re just taking the opportunity to come in here and get the kinks out.”
Despite Gnat’s graduation and Kelley’s injury, LSU still returns a strong nucleus with the likes of Hambrick, Finnegan and Edney, all of whom competed in all four events Monday.
The key outlier will likely be Priessman, a three-time All-American and 2017 SEC bars champion, who has battled through an injury-plagued career.
Breaux said LSU’s coaches will have to pick their spots to use the talented junior, who only competed Monday on bars, starting her routine then coming back to finish the landing after a break. Breaux said Priessman recently underwent a knee procedure after having knee and wrist surgery shortly after the 2017 season ended in April.
“Two events this week and two more the next,” Breaux said. “Vault and bars and once in awhile, floor. Maybe when we’re in one of our podium meets when the floor is more forgiving and we can plug her in when someone else needs a rest.”
Breaux said her team will have four more days of training here before a two-week Christmas break. “Most of them have great training situations at home,” she said. “Then we’ve got a good week to get them ready.”
Finnegan said the objectives for her team between this meet and Jan. 5 are clear.
“We just need to build on our confidence,” said Finnegan, who in April became LSU’s first NCAA bars champion. “Today we got the full meet-like environment. Now we have to go back in the gym and work on our pressure routines so we can hit them when we need to.”