For the most part, the Southeastern Conference Gymnastics Championships have been as competitive as the championship format the NCAA adopted back in 1993.
That year, the NCAA went to a pair of six-team semifinal sessions with the top three schools from each session meeting in the Super Six finals the next evening.
The only thing that will be missing from the 6 p.m. evening session of the new-look SEC Championships in North Little Rock, Ark., on Saturday are two more high-caliber teams to go with the league’s longtime powers — Georgia, Alabama, Florida and LSU.
With the addition of Missouri this year, making it an eight-team league for gymnastics, the SEC decided to hold a pair of four-team sessions.
The scores from the 2 p.m. afternoon competition between Auburn, Arkansas, Kentucky and Missouri will be compared to the night session to determine the 2013 champion and complete order of finish.
“This is the first time to do it like this, so it’s new,” said LSU coach D-D Breaux. “When we added Missouri, it only made sense to go to two four-team sessions.”
That means sixth-ranked LSU will be in a cozy four-team competition with top-ranked Florida, No. 3 Alabama and No. 5 Georgia as the Tigers try to earn a top-two seeding for the NCAA Regionals in a couple of weeks.
“It’s going to have a real national feel to it just because of the intense level of competition,” Breaux said. “It’s just amazing how competitive each of these rotations is going to be.”
But, she pointed out, that’s what everyone has come to expect in the SEC.
In addition to having four of the top six teams in the rankings, Auburn is 12th, Arkansas 16th and Kentucky 19th — giving the SEC seven teams among the top 20.
“Going into last week, we were the third seed in the conference,” Breaux said, “and this week, we’re fourth. If Auburn had another couple of weeks, they would have been right there with us. These are close fractions we’re talking about.”
Florida takes a regional qualifying score of 197.700 into the SEC Championships, while Alabama (197.260), Georgia (197.160) and LSU (197.065) follow.
LSU defeated Florida in early January and beat Georgia twice — in the Metroplex Challenge in Fort Worth and at home. The Tigers lost to Alabama twice, including a slim 197.725-197.500 setback two weeks ago in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
“It’s so close in this conference that less than a half a tenth of a point — a miniscule amount — could determine whether you are a first or second seed at the regional level,” said Breaux. “It’s razor-sharp, but that’s what makes it so exciting.”
LSU will be led by sophomore Rheagan Courville, who was named the SEC Gymnast of the Year on Friday during an awards session held in conjunction with practice day for the championship meet. She is the fourth LSU gymnast to claim the league’s top individual honor.
Courville, a Baton Rouge native and University High graduate, leads the nation with eight all-around titles this season the SEC in total individual titles this year with 21.
LSU will also rely heavily on Lloimincia Hall and Sarie Morrison, who’ve combined for three perfect 10.0 scores this season, and Kaleigh Dickson, who was a second-team All-American in the all-around two years ago.
Based on what she’s seen in recent intrasquad meets, where the Tigers have scored upwards of 197.6, Breaux wants her team to be aggressive Saturday night and compete with intensity and commitment.
“It’s going to take that type of score to be in the top two at this meet,” she said. “If you’re in the top two, you’re competing for the title. It won’t do us any good to finish fourth, so we need to go in and let it loose and throw our best gymnastics out there and have fun.
“We have to relax and have fun in what we’re doing,” she added. “When you’re not tense or tight, you stick landings. If you’re loose and focused on your cues and do the things you did at practice, you have great gymnastics.”