There was singing on LSU’s joyful plane ride home Saturday night from Jacksonville, Florida, after the Tigers captured the SEC gymnastics championship trophy.
“That’s no secret,” said Ashleigh Gnat, who came home with three SEC individual trophies. “We were really excited.”
On Monday, the Tigers were pretty much a stoic group as they sat in the lobby of the LSU gymnastics practice facility and watched the NCAA selection show unfold on a huge TV screen before them.
Tension? No. Bubble watching? Hardly. Since it's ranked No. 2 in the country, it was merely a matter of which regional LSU was headed to, not if. About halfway through, they found out they’re headed to Lincoln, Nebraska, for a regional there as the top seed, the next stop on a journey to the ultimate goal of an NCAA championship.
“We all know it’s time to get back down to business,” Gnat said. “The SEC championship was a goal and a checkmark. Once we did it, we know we have further to go.”
Also in the Lincoln regional are No. 11 Boise State, No. 12 Nebraska, Arizona, Iowa State and Minnesota, plus a selection of individual athletes. The top two teams advance to the NCAA championships, April 14-15 in St. Louis.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — McKenna Kelley took a slow walk past the blue-draped table in a corner …
LSU coach D-D Breaux was less than thrilled by her team’s destination. Most of all, she was disappointed that it had to have a destination in the first place.
“You’ve got to go somewhere if you can’t host it and, unfortunately, we’re not in a hosting position,” she said.
NCAA regionals were set in 2013 for the 2014-18 seasons. LSU hosted a regional in 2014 but hasn’t since and won’t get to host until at least 2019. Breaux blamed a lack of planning within the athletic department but didn’t elaborate.
“This was done a long time ago,” she said. “There was someone asleep at the wheel and didn’t put in bids for LSU, so we’ve been traveling for the last three years. Here we have Florida hosting, and we’re not.”
Breaux said she expects Nebraska to be a tough place to compete, with the host Cornhuskers poised to try to break through from their spot as the regional’s third-seeded team and advance to St. Louis.
“I don’t expect a big crowd, but it’ll be tough competition because a 3 seed is hosting it, and Boise is coming on at the end of the season," she said. “I understand we start on bars, so that’s good for us. There are some real advantages.”
This marks the Tigers’ 35th NCAA postseason appearance and their 33rd straight dating to 1985.
LSU remained No. 2 in the national rankings for the 10th straight week behind No. 1 Oklahoma, although the Tigers closed the gap slightly on the reigning national champions.
LSU’s 198.075 score in the SEC championship meet raised its season-long Regional Qualifying Score to 197.865. Oklahoma’s RQS rose to 198.010 despite a score of 197.850 in the four-team Big 12 championship meet Saturday. The Tigers, who have posted better scores than the Sooners for three straight weeks, closed from 0.215 points behind OU to 0.145.
“I think it’s a personnel thing for them,” Breaux said of Oklahoma’s moderating recent scores. “I think they know they can pull some people out and rest Maggie (Nichols, the nation’s top-ranked all-arounder), protect some injuries. They can do the same thing through regionals. They don’t have to put their big guns in. They can cruise in with 9.85s.”
LSU senior Ashleigh Gnat goes into NCAA competition ranked No. 1 on vault win an RQS of 9.970, just ahead of Oklahoma's Nichols (9.955). Gnat won the SEC vault title with a perfect 10 on Saturday and shared SEC titles on beam and floor with scores of 9.95. Gnat ranks fourth on floor and tied for eighth on beam.
Tigers sophomore Sarah Finnegan is tied for fourth on beam with an RQS of 9.945. Lexie Priessman, who won SEC bars with a 9.95, is tied for seventh nationally in that event.
As a team, LSU remains ranked No. 1 in vault (49.540), No. 2 on floor and beam behind Oklahoma and No. 3 on bars behind the Sooners and UCLA.
Finnegan, for one, is happy with LSU’s destination. Lincoln is about 3½ hours from Lee’s Summit, Missouri, the hometown she shares with LSU pitcher Alex Lange.
“I’m really excited,” she said. “One of my good friends from my club gym goes there, and she said, ‘I think you’re coming here.’ There will definitely be a lot of familiar faces in the crowd.”
Centenary junior Ashley White will compete in the Champaign (Illinois) regional as an all-arounder. She is ranked 84th nationally in the all-around.
NCAA regionals (Saturday, April 1)
Seattle: 1. Oklahoma, 12. Kentucky, 13. Washington, Utah State, Stanford, BYU
Champaign, Ill.: 5. UCLA, 8. Oregon State, 17. Iowa, Illinois, Eastern Michigan, Ohio State
Fayetteville, Ark.: 4. Utah, 9. Denver, 16. California, Auburn, Arkansas, Central Michigan
Lincoln, Neb.: 2. LSU, 11. Boise State, 14. Nebraska, Arizona, Iowa State, Minnesota
Morgantown, W.Va.: 6. Alabama, 7. Michigan, 18. Southern Utah, George Washington, West Virginia, Kent State
Gainesville, Fla.: 3. Florida, 10. Georgia, 15. Missouri, New Hampshire, Penn State, North Carolina
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — As Lexie Priessman packed up to head home from the SEC gymnastics champ…