It began on floor. LSU assistant coach Bob Moore entered the gym to recruit Ashleigh Gnat, who progressed from a round-off double layout to a tuck full-in to a tuck-and-a-half punch front, each tumbling pass a bit harder than the last.
Knat sauntered to vault, executing a Yurchenko full, then a Yurchenko one-and-a-half before throwing the Yurchenko double full — the vault she’s trained since 15 and the one that’s garnered perfect 10s in back-to-back weeks.
“The kid can pop just about any trick she wants to,” quipped Moore — the Tigers’ vault coach.
Now under Moore’s tutelage for three years, Gnat’s gotten control of her hips and legs in the air — no more “egg beaters,” as Moore calls it — and has the vault nearly flawless on each run.
And as the only collegian that consistently throws the vault — a round-off onto the springboard, back handspring off the table and a layout with two full twists — Gnat’s garnering a reputation among judges as LSU enters its fifth meet of the season, a 7:30 p.m. duel against No. 8 Arkansas on Friday in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
“I think the judges have rationalized to themselves that here’s a kid that’s really putting it out there,” Moore said. “And so if there’s just a tiny little (break), they forgave it a little bit.”
If Gnat were to hit another perfect 10 against Arkansas, she’d become the third LSU gymnast to score three straight 10s on the same event, joining Jennifer Wood (vault) and Lloimincia Hall (floor).
“It took me a little while to master it and control the landing,” Gnat said. “I really think just being able to control it really happened in college — a lot of practice, a lot of reps, a lot of numbers. Getting up as high as you can … I’m never expecting anything, honestly.”
Gnat’s 10 at the Metroplex Challenge last week capped a resounding final two events that the Tigers needed to shake off Sarah Finnegan’s fall on beam and take second behind Oklahoma with a 196.750.
Finnegan fell on her opening triple-wolf turn, getting her toe caught on the beam, forcing her to stop before she could have broken the toe.
Competing all-around for the first time in her career, Finnegan turned in a 9.90 on floor and a 9.825 vault — both collegiate debuts — in the two routines following the fall.
“I’m kind of glad that it did happen, so that I have more experience of something like that,” Finnegan said. “(I learned) to not let little things affect you, like the mess-up I had on beam. You still had two events, so I had to do go on two events and make sure I was mentally there.”
With Finnegan now in the all-around mix and Gnat’s vault reaping national accolades, the Tigers open a stretch of five straight SEC meets where they’re still looking to eliminate inconsistency and some uncharacteristic emotional lapses.
“It’s just sharpening the saber, sharpening the edge,” coach D-D Breaux said. “Trying to get better each week. The kids having breaks, falls, it’s not the same kids. It’s little emotional, lack of focus, little things here and there we can certainly work on week in and week out as we go.”