DULUTH, Ga. — LSU headed into the Arena at the Gwinnett Center as the No. 2 seed in the Southeastern Conference gymnastics championships, poised to bring home its first title in 34 years.
But LSU fell short of that elusive championship as Alabama won its second consecutive title, outscoring the Tigers 197.525 to 197.425. Florida finished third at 197.400.
As a consolation prize of sorts, LSU’s Jessie Jordan and Rheagan Courville, the No. 4 and No. 8 all-arounders in the nation, took home the SEC all-around co-championship with scores of 39.525.
“I think as teammates you always push each other to be the best that they can be,” Jordan said. “To win it with Rheagan was awesome. I’m so proud of her. She came back from a hip injury just a few weeks ago. For her to come out here and do so well for the team is amazing.”
“Watching her compete and growing with her has made me a better competitor,” Courville added. “She’s so consistent and amazing day in and day out, and I’ve learned so much from her.”
Courville also won a share of the vault title with teammate Myia Hambrick with a score of 9.950. Lloimincia Hall also won a share of the floor exercise title with a 9.975.
The 8,758 in attendance, the largest crowd at the SEC championships since 2008, was geared up and ready for a second session that featured four of the top 10 teams in the nation.
LSU, ranked No. 3 in the country, started on the uneven bars and balance beam looking for a strong showing in the events to set the tone.
The Tigers did not get it.
LSU completed the bars with a combined 49.375, tied for the second-best mark of the night. Courville anchored the event with the top score for the Tigers landing a 9.925.
But on the balance beam, the Tigers seemingly fell apart as a few wobbles cost the Tigers points.
“I call it the eye of the tiger,” coach D-D Breaux said. “That eye of the tiger intensity that you need to get a 9.9 on beam, we just didn’t have it tonight.
“Beam is our best event. It is the event in practice we train the most consistently. Maybe I let them get a little complacent this week, because it has been so good.”
Jordan, who has been consistent on the beam all season, closed the event strong.
“I just wanted to do well for my team,” she said. “That wasn’t our normal beam. We’ve gone out meet after meet and hit routines. Maybe the pressure got to us tonight. We had a few mistakes. It’s not the end of the world. There’s always regionals and nationals to pick it up.”
After two events, the Tigers found themselves in unfamiliar territory: last place. But they came charging back.
They dominated on the floor exercise, posting the second-highest team total of 49.550, right behind Florida’s 49.575.
Hall, as she has done all year, dominated the event. Coming off back-to-back 10s in her past two meets, Hall closed the floor exercise landing a 9.975, which tied her for first place with Florida’s Kytra Hunter.
After three events, LSU trailed Alabama by just 0.35 points and moved to the vault, where Myia Hambrick set a career high with a 9.950. Courville had a 9.950 as well.
“We always tell them that the meet’s not over until Rheagan Courville sticks her vault,” Breaux said. “The kids are just absolutely not to be denied. They saw an opportunity. They saw blood in the water, and they just went after it. They got vicious on their last event.”
“We knew we needed to be lights out on vault. and we needed to do what we always do in practice,” Courville said. “The kind of team we were in vault today was the kind of team we are in everything. We just fell a little bit short on some events that was kind of uncharacteristic of us.
“We still have the championships to look forward to. Our season’s not over yet.”
It’s a sentiment Breaux and Courville echoed.
“The end of the meet was much better than the beginning of the meet,” Breaux said. “The intensity, the level of energy and confidence that we exhumed on the last two events is what we lacked on the first two events and that, of course, cost us a championship.”
“Overall, it showed our character, and how we can finish so well,” Courville said of the slow start. “Getting away such a little bit on beam, it was so uncharacteristic. Knowing that allows us to take away positives from it. It’s really the team that wins beam wins. We just need to stay level-headed the entire competition and be able to finish it off with an exclamation point like we did on vault.”