“The trick … is not minding that it hurts.”
— Lawrence of Arabia
Canadians are known for being nice.
LSU senior gymnast Jessica Savona doesn’t try to alter the image.
“We are a nice people,” said Savona, a native of Mississauga, Ontario. “At least I hope so.”
Savona has proved this season that Canadians can also be tough.
By March, every college gymnast is working through something that hurts. A wrapped knee, ankle or foot, belied by the smiling faces they display at the end of every routine.
Savona is no exception. She tore an ankle ligament early in the season — an injury that for weeks kept her out of the floor routine, the discipline in which she earned All-America honors in 2014 as a sophomore.
“We didn’t think it was as bad as it was,” Savona said. “I kept pushing it, and it didn’t get better. So we got it checked out and there was a torn ligament in there.”
The injury kept Savona off floor until the Auburn meet two weeks ago and off vault until last week at Florida. Torn ligament or not, she kept competing on uneven bars, posting six straight scores of 9.800 or better.
“I can put up with it,” Savona said.
Savona came back in smashing fashion with a career high 9.950 on floor against Auburn and followed that with a 9.875 on floor at Florida along with a 9.825 on bars and a 9.800 on vault.
It’s those kinds of performances No. 4-ranked LSU will need in bunches to defeat No. 3 Alabama on Friday night.
Introductions are set for 7:15 p.m. in what is expected to be a capacity crowd in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center (the only remaining tickets for Friday’s meet are general admission seats in the PMAC’s 300 level; tickets are $5 for adults, $3 for children and $2 for groups).
First routines begin at 7:30 p.m. for the meet which will be shown online on SEC Network+ via WatchESPN.com and the WatchESPN app.
With LSU not scheduled to host an NCAA regional this season, Friday’s meet will be the final home competition for Savona and fellow seniors Randii Wyrick and Michelle Gauthier of Mandeville.
Wyrick said earlier this week she would be emotional before her final home meet, but Savona said she’s trying to focus on what LSU still has to face. The Tigers have a four-team meet next week in Denton, Texas; followed by the SEC championships in North Little Rock, Arkansas; and what will likely be two weeks of NCAA championships competition in April.
“I just kind of blinked and we’re almost at the end of the season,” Savona said. “But we have many weeks to go. It’s only just begun.”
The Tigers (9-2, 5-1 SEC) are coming off a landmark 197.900-197.875 win at Florida, a season high and program-best score for a road meet.
“It shows our potential and what we’re capable of doing when we’re all hitting,” said Savona, whose sister was a soccer player at Northwestern State. “We just needed a little time to get ourselves together. We’re growing as a team, as a group.
“They’re my sisters. Seeing how far we’ve come, there’s so much more to expect from us.”
LSU has posted the nation’s best single-meet scores on vault (49.550), balance beam (49.575) and floor (49.700) this season. Both teams are ranked in the top five nationally in all events except for LSU’s No. 10 ranking on beam.
“I think the LSU-Alabama rivalry carries over to English,” LSU coach D-D Breaux said of the football-fueled grudge between the athletic programs.
LSU junior Ashleigh Gnat, the nation’s only gymnast to post three 10s this season (two vault, one floor) is ranked No. 1 nationally in both events. Alabama’s Lauren Beers also has a 10.0 on vault and ranks sixth in the event.
“It’s going to be a great Alabama team coming in here against a great LSU team,” Breaux said. “It’s Senior Night. I have to believe our crowd is going to be on fire. Our event starts at 7:15 and it’s high action for 1:45. I have to believe we’re going to be ready for anything they throw at us.”
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.