Ashleigh Gnat was ready to work, conditioned after a long gymnastics season to returning home from yet another meet and heading back in the gym to hone her routines for the next meet.
Of course, there is no next meet. Not until next year. So LSU’s star junior traded conditioning for some of the things she denies herself during the season.
Pizza. And ice cream.
“It’s been nice to splurge a little bit,” Gnat said, wrinkling her nose in delight.
Gnat and the rest of the Tigers have earned a celebratory nosh. The proof was sitting Wednesday on the reception desk in the lobby of LSU’s palatial gymnastics facility, a trophy for a runner-up finish in Saturday’s NCAA championship meet.
The trophy represents LSU’s highest finish in NCAA gymnastics. While there was some frustration at being nipped on the final rotation by Oklahoma, there was pride in setting a high mark for this still evolving program.
“Making school history isn’t easy,” freshman McKenna Kelley said. “To know that this team has left a mark on this program is really exciting.
“Of course we would like to have won, but finishing second and making history is incredible.”
The Tigers won the Athens (Georgia) regional to get to the NCAA championships, but otherwise, in the classic sense, 2016 wasn’t that championship season for LSU gymnastics. The Tigers finished third at the SEC championships, then advanced to the program’s fifth Super Six (the equivalent of a Final Four or College World Series) and topped it off with a hard-charging second-place finish.
But to those in the LSU program who toiled and tumbled and leaped and smiled through the silent pains, taped up ankles and braced wrists, they felt like champions. Deservedly so.
“It was absolutely a championship team,” Gnat said firmly. “It was a championship effort. The enthusiasm, the camaraderie, the body of work we put together was such high caliber. The memories we’ve learned and experiences we’ve had will carry through to the teams to come.”
But, Gnat added, it was also a season that lit a fire.
“Second is the next step to first,” she said. “I knew we had to make that step.”
The expectations for LSU’s 2017 team will take a step up for certain.
The Tigers lose three seniors — Jessica Savona, Randii Wyrick and Michelle Gauthier. Savona and Wyrick were key contributors, but LSU brings in some mighty talented replacements in next year’s freshman class anchored by Ruby Harrold and Kennedi Edney.
Harrold agreed to push back her arrival at LSU until this fall for a chance to be on this summer’s Olympic team for Great Britain. Edney, the daughter of UCLA basketball great Tyus Edney, is a two-time Level 10 Junior Olympic national all-around champion.
With their additions — Harrold will be expected to improve LSU on bars, the Tigers’ “weakest” event — pressure will be on for that long-elusive national championship.
To that, the Tigers and their feisty coach say bring it on.
“Um, yeah. It’s true,” Gnat said of the heat to finish No. 1 in her senior season. “We have so many good routines returning and so many girls coming in who are going to be great. I hope the chemistry is going to be the same. We’re going to miss this team from this year. But we’re excited.”
“I am so OK with those expectations,” said D-D Breaux, who now turns her attention to her 40th season as LSU’s coach. “You hang around the goal and you shoot and you hang around, you’re going to get it in the goal. This team has been hanging around the goal. We know what our mission is.
“You’ve got to learn how to win and I think this team learned a lot this season. They learned how to overcome little bits of adversity and not let it get them down. They learned how to fight, compete, get knocked down and get up again. And at the national championships they learned you’ve got to make it come down to the last person in the last event.”
That trophy LSU has on display at its gymnastics facility has the letters “NCAA” embossed on a silver disk at its peak. The national championship trophy has a gold disk.
The object for the Tigers in 2017: replace silver with gold. Then break out the pizza and ice cream – and maybe a little champagne.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.