Ashleigh Gnat is the daughter of two gymnasts, and LSU is glad she stuck with the family business _lowres

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- LSU head coach D-D Breaux watches as Ashleigh Gnat warms up on the floor before the start of the Tigers' meet against Georgia on Feb. 6.

There have been 38 of these for D-D Breaux.

Some season openers were on foreign soil. Her 39th was scheduled to be, but Breaux scrapped a Cancun trip.

The longest-tenured Southeastern Conference head coach — regardless of sport — Breaux likes to have control. She didn’t know the condition of the apparatuses and didn’t want to risk putting such a young team in uncertain conditions.

The debut of the team’s new training facility — a sprawling, plush paradise that’s still adding amenities — eased Breaux’s decision. She would keep the team in Baton Rouge, getting it accustomed to the new atmosphere and breaking in the facility’s equipment in anticipation of its season opener.

It’s one Breaux said is incomparable to any in her memory: a date against No. 1 Oklahoma at 4 p.m. Saturday in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

“It’s still their first meet, and they’re competing at our house, which does make a difference,” junior Ashleigh Gnat said. “It’s exciting for us, and it’s probably intimidating for them. I’d be intimidated.”

Gnat’s poised to take one of the team’s two all-around spots, vacated when 23-time All-American Rheagan Courville and defending SEC all-around champion Jessie Jordan graduated.

Nagging injuries and a still-evolving, maturing group of underclassmen have the second spot in flux, though Myia Hambrick, Jessica Savona and Sarah Finnegan are all candidates.

“We lost two dynamic all-arounders, two kids that competed in four events week in and week out and really strapped up the bridle and charged up the hill,” Breaux said. “It’s pretty daunting when you look at the shoes we have to fill, the performances we have to replace. But this is not a sprint. It’s a marathon. I think this team is going to be very methodical in their process in the right kind of way.”

Finnegan, a 2012 Olympic alternate and perhaps the most sought-after recruit in LSU’s first top-ranked freshman class, narrowed her decision to these two schools.

“I made my visit to LSU first, then I made my visit to Oklahoma — and I really loved both schools,” she said. “They’re both great programs, and both gymnastics (teams) are phenomenal. But I really felt like I was supposed to go to LSU. It felt like home. I loved the culture, the people, the teammates, the coaches, the academic people. It was all just great.”

The Sooners return eight All-Americans, including senior Haley Scaman, the two-time reigning Big 12 Gymnast of the Year and the only gymnast in program history to post multiple perfect 10s on multiple events. Ranked No. 1 entering last season’s NCAA semifinals, Oklahoma advanced to the Super Six, where it finished third.

LSU, ranked fourth at the time, competed in the same semifinal and was forced to count two sub-9.7 scores on balance beam, ending Courville’s and Jordan’s career along with any chance the senior-laden team had at the program’s first national title.

The accolades from that season hang on banners still being placed in the new training facility, the only memories of the senior class that still linger. The missing talent is unavoidable, and Savona said it’d be disingenuous to overlook all that has been lost.

“Starting off the season with (Oklahoma) is going to be amazing. It’s going to give our freshmen a taste of what’s to come,” she said. “We’re just as good, and that’s what a lot of people don’t know or they may not see: our capabilities, our talents, our unity as a team. We can take them any day.”