While it’s still early in the season, the LSU gymnastics team will take part in one of the biggest competitions on its schedule Saturday night.
In fact, as far as LSU coach D-D Breaux is concerned, the Metroplex Challenge in Fort Worth, Texas, is vitally important to the success of her program — both in the near future and for years to come.
The meet will be in the same venue and use the same equipment that will be used for the NCAA championships in mid-April, giving her athletes an idea of what to expect later on, while more than 4,000 age-group gymnasts will be on hand.
Given that, the fact that second-ranked LSU (4-0, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) will face top-ranked Oklahoma, the reigning national co-champion, No. 8 Arkansas and Iowa State is almost an afterthought.
For a couple of years, Breaux and her coaching staff and their athletes have talked about changing the perception of the program to get it in the same light as Georgia, Alabama, Florida and other national powers.
As a result, Breaux said the Metroplex Challenge is a perception meet for LSU — especially in going against Oklahoma, even though neither team can control what the other does.
“We’re measuring ourselves,” Breaux said. “It comes down to sticking landings, handstand position and which team can be focused and stay on the balance beam.
“We’ve done a really good job of doing that this year,” she said. “We’re using a couple of freshmen in our lineups, and those kids are getting better and better each week.”
That’s especially big for LSU even though the Tigers have an experienced lineup that includes three seniors — all-arounders Jessie Jordan and Rheagan Courville, the reigning SEC gymnast of the week, as well as Lloimincia Hall.
“It’s vitally important, particularly for the younger ones,” Breaux said. “I want all our athletes to be very comfortable when we go back there in April.
“If we have any shot at winning (the national title), I want to give ourselves any opportunity to be successful. It was very important for us to see Oklahoma at this meet even though it’s not really us against them, so it’s great.”
LSU is coming off a season-high score of 197.350 last week against Missouri, when Breaux’s team recorded seasonal-bests on beam (49.325) and floor exercise (49.500).
Courville’s score of 39.625 in the all-around last week equaled the highest score in the nation and Hall produced a 9.975 on floor to tie the nation’s best.
LSU leads the nation on beam and ranks second on bars, fourth on floor and seventh on vault, while Oklahoma is first on bars, second on floor and vault and fourth on beam.
While the final score is important for rankings and seeding later on in the season, how her program is perceived with so many potential recruits watching from the stands is also big, Breaux said.
“It’s huge,” she said. “You’re competing in front of 4,000 kids and it’s not just what’s happening there. It’s the pictures they’re taking and sending out and what they’re putting on Facebook. You can’t put a price tag on that.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter: @MicklesAdvocate.