In LSU junior gymnast Myia Hambrick’s mind, seeing the Tigers’ 2016 national runner-up banner unveiled didn’t add pressure or distractions before a season-opening matchup against then-No. 9 Georgia last Friday.
Rather, Hambrick said the pre-meet celebration fueled the Tigers’ 197.825-193.600 victory over the Gym Dogs, setting LSU’s season-opening score record.
For coach D-D Breaux, who was presented a plaque for her 700th victory last season by Gov. John Bel Edwards, LSU President F. King Alexander and athletic director Joe Alleva, the entire night represented almost four decades of work by the school’s “Dean of Coaches.”
"It meant everything,” Breaux said. “Friday night represented a lifetime of work, of victories — victories that didn't just take place in 2016, victories that took place in 1977-1978. It was a lot of people and performances between now and then, and there's a lot of struggles and a lot of great times and hard times and a lot of victories.”
But the banner dropping was also a reminder to Hambrick that the Tigers fell short of a national championship in 2016. It’s part of the reason none of the gymnasts — from senior Ashleigh Gnat to freshman Kennedi Edney — are awed by a No. 1 ranking heading into a matchup against No. 4 Alabama at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
“So seeing that banner drop was just like … I don't know … it was a great experience,” Hambrick said. “But we saw it, and it says, 'runner-up.' I think that all of us can agree that we want to have one that say 'champions,' so we still have work to do. I think everybody is cohesive in that."
So LSU’s attention quickly turns for its second straight top-10 opponent, presenting an early season litmus test. Alabama, which finished third in last year’s Super Six, faces similar circumstances, having opened its season with 197.750-196.700 loss against then-No. 1 Oklahoma.
The environment of Coleman Coliseum is just as challenging as the opponent itself, said Gnat, whose older sister was an All-American for the Crimson Tide.
“It's good for us to go in a different environment because we're going to face a ton of different environments as this season continues,” she said. “The opponent is hard, but like we say every week, that we're competing against every team in the nation, so we're always competing against them. So we're prepared to face off and just do what we know how to do and focus on us."
Breaux likes to keep things consistent and comfortable for her gymnast on the road. There’s a trip to Olive Garden, a team favorite, already planned, and the Tigers will have their usual pregame meal of baked chicken, green beans or broccoli, wild rice, iced tea and fresh fruit.
Breaux doesn’t minimize her desire to beat the conference rival, either.
"I want to beat Alabama in tiddlywinks,” Breaux joked. “I want to beat Alabama in driving my car through Tuscaloosa. It really doesn't matter what we're doing. Everybody wants to beat Alabama — baseball, gymnastics swimming, certainly football — and we're the next ones up. So let's see how we do."
Breaux suggested their most likely wouldn’t be any major lineup changes in any of the events against the Crimson Tide, but she takes into account LSU’s weekly intrasquad competitions when setting the lineup. Four of her 15 gymnasts did not compete against Georgia, including freshmen Ruby Harold.
Harold had “two years of intense training,” Breaux said, leading up to her appearance on Great Britain’s 2016 Olympic team. Though Harold is now eager to compete, Breaux’s goal is ease the Bristol, England native into the bars lineup.
Still, Breaux is trying to find depth elsewhere, knowing the Tigers have two meets scheduled in one weekend in February.
“We really need to get eight or nine people ready in every event so that we can maybe move some people out, so we don't have to tumble Ashleigh Gnat or tumble McKenna Kelley two times in a weekend,” Breaux said. “It's things like that. We'd like to be able to make those decisions later on.”