FORT WORTH, Texas — There’s no doubt that watching last year’s Super Six finals from the stands instead of the competition floor had a profound effect on the returning members of the LSU gymnastics team.
To say the least, the Tigers didn’t like it one bit when they stubbed their collective toe in the national semifinals and could only think about what might have been, had one of the most talented teams in program history reached its full potential.
Who knows? That 2015 team may have challenged Florida for the title or, coming up short of that long-standing goal, perhaps recorded its highest finish at the NCAA championships.
Consider it a lesson learned for D-D Breaux’s 39th team, which did what the Tigers couldn’t do last year when it competed for the team crown Saturday night in the Fort Worth Convention Center — the site of last year’s bitter disappointment.
While LSU came up short in finishing second to champion Oklahoma, it was a landmark moment nonetheless for its fiery coach, the athletes and the fans who made the trip looking for a happier ending to another successful season.
The runner-up finish was the best in program history, and seniors Jessica Savona, Randii Wyrick and Michelle Gauthier added to the celebration by becoming the first LSU gymnasts to be part of three Super Six teams.
It felt like a win for the program, even though OU posted a score of 197.675 to LSU’s 197.450.
“I’m very pleased. … I’m very proud,” Breaux said. “I’m so proud of the amount of maturity and the process this team has stayed in. There hasn’t been any clutter. There’s been nothing that has detracted from this team doing the very best they could.”
That was especially true when LSU easily got through the semifinals Friday and came back fresh Saturday night with an eye on the title.
To win, the Tigers were going to have to dethrone three-time defending champion Florida, the nation’s No. 2 team, and top-ranked Oklahoma, which shared the crown with the Gators in 2014.
After a slow start on bars, LSU was in fifth place after two rotations. But the Tigers weren’t finished: They posted the second-highest score of the night on floor (49.4625) and the top score on vault (49.5250).
“We really came back and just hit it out of the park,” Wyrick said. “We said, ‘Hey, let’s just have fun. We already qualified (for Super Six), so let’s lay it out on the table.’ We did that, and I’m just so excited to be a part of that. It’s amazing everything we accomplished. We set a goal, and we went out and we did it. I couldn’t be more proud of my team tonight.”
That was a far cry from a year ago when, in the same arena, the hopes and dreams of a national title were doused by disappointment.
Wyrick said sticking together and being more of a family was key to the bounceback season.
“We’re really together. … The entire year we set out to say, ‘We’re a family. We’re going to be together, go together,’ ” she said. “We really adhered to that. We’ve adhered to respecting one another and really caring about one another and picking each other up whenever we’re down.”
Not even their third-lowest score of the season on bars, a 49.1250, could stop the Tigers from continuing that theme.
While Oklahoma was putting on a near-flawless performance, LSU increased its scores on each of the next three events.
“That’s something we learned earlier in the season,” all-arounder Ashleigh Gnat said after putting an exclamation point on the score by anchoring the vault lineup with a 9.950. “If something happens, you’ve got to pick it up. You continue the energy and keep it up. That’s one of those things we learned early on. And in this meet, we really proved that.”
Finishing on such a high note will help going into 2017, when the core of the team — Gnat, Myia Hambrick, Sarah Finnegan, Lexie Priessman, Sydney Ewing and McKenna Kelley — returns and is joined by a talented freshman trio that could take the Tigers a step farther.
“Every team is different, but I’m excited about learning and growing with that team, like I did with this team,” Hambrick said. “It just so happened this team clicked so well. You hope for that every year, but if it doesn’t, you have to work toward it to be a better team.”
But next year can wait, Breaux said, for a day or two.
“I don’t want to look beyond tomorrow. … I don’t want to look beyond this, right now,” she said Saturday night. “We tell the kids to live in the present. Today is a gift. I want them to really enjoy tonight and realize what a fabulous accomplishment this is.
“This is the highest we’ve ever finished, and we did it with a lot of class and a lot of momentum and a lot of youthful enthusiasm.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter, @MicklesAdvocate.