It’s not heaven, it’s Iowa. Ames, Iowa.
Still, LSU gymnasts and coaches are adamant: they couldn’t have picked a better place to launch their assault on the program’s first NCAA team title.
The NCAA doled out its six regional assignments among 36 teams Monday, sending No. 4-ranked LSU as the top-seeded team to the Ames regional.
LSU coach D-D Breaux feared the NCAA selection committee might send her team to Auburn, one of the other five regional sites and a tough draw considering both are top-10 Southeastern Conference rivals.
Instead, LSU will fly out next week for the April 4 regional at Iowa State’s Hilton Coliseum.
“It’s a great assignment,” Breaux said. “It’s someplace we’ve never been, so it’s a different venue, so the kids are a little excited about something different. We’re very happy about the opponents, someone not in the SEC who we see week in and week out.”
Along with LSU and host Iowa State, the other teams in Ames will be No. 9 Nebraska, No. 16 Denver, Washington, Michigan State and five individual gymnasts from Air Force and Wisconsin-La Crosse.
The top two teams from each regional advance to the NCAA championships, April 17-19 at the Fort Worth (Texas) Convention Center.
Breaux, her gymnasts and staff gathered at Tiger Stadium’s Lawton Room to watch the online NCAA selection show on a big projection screen at the front of the auditorium.
Given LSU’s ranking, the Tigers were by no means a bubble team anxious to see if they received a bid. Only the destination was in doubt.
When LSU’s name flashed up on the screen as the first one bound for Iowa, there were cheers of delight.
“We had a pretty good idea (it would be Ames) if the committee does what it’s supposed to do,” Breaux said. “But you never know.”
“It’ll be fun,” said senior Rheagan Courville, a two-time NCAA individual champion. “It’ll be a different environment and different people. It’ll be cool.”
The Tigers are coming off a bittersweet meet Saturday at the SEC championships in Duluth, Georgia.
LSU had its moments in the high-stakes evening session that included top-10 ranked Florida, Alabama and Auburn, but it’s quest for the program’s first SEC title since 1981 fell .075 points shy of first-place Alabama.
“We always say the difference is this much, and it was really hard for us,” said sophomore Ashleigh Gnat, holding her thumb and forefinger less than an inch apart. “But I think it gives us an added advantage going into nationals.
“It wasn’t the result we wanted at SECs, but we learned a lot. Now we have this bye week to get the extra training that we need to go into the next meet.”
The NCAA bid is LSU’s 31st straight and 33rd overall. The Tigers are seeking their third straight regional title and 14th overall.
Though LSU could merely have a decent regional meet by its standards and advance to nationals, Courville said it’s vital the Tigers hit their marks.
“It’s huge just to feel good about the last performance going into nationals,” she said.
Breaux said there is no good changing her lineup or routines at this point, just polishing what her team does best.
“We’re going to go with the same kind of training regimen, program, diet, everything,” Breaux said.
That, she hopes, will be good enough to bring home both a regional title and momentum.
“Sabers out, slashing and waving,” Breaux said. “We want to plant our sword at the top of the hill.”
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.