LSU’s Rheagan Courville shares another NCAA vault title _lowres

Associated Press file photo by Hal Yeager -- Sydney Ewing has helped the LSU gymnastics team reach the NCAA championship meet, which begins Friday in Fort Worth, Texas.

Joining a junior- and senior-laden gymnastics team, one of the nation’s best at that, might have been a rather intimidating proposition for a walk-on.

Not so for LSU’s Sydney Ewing.

A Level 10 performer at Acadiana Gymnastics in Lafayette, Ewing turned down Arizona and Boise State two years ago to fulfill a dream and compete for her home-state school.

That was just the start to an amazing story that saw her go from walk-on to first-team All-American in three months as a freshman a year ago.

“Whenever they told me I could come to LSU as a walk-on, that in itself was a dream come true,” Ewing said. “I always wanted to be right here. Coming in, I knew I had to work as hard as anyone else to potentially make a lineup.”

Not only did she make the beam lineup, Ewing starred in it when she settled in alongside established veterans like Rheagan Courville, Jessie Jordan, Kaleigh Dickson and Lloimincia Hall.

Ewing competed in three of LSU’s first four meets, posting a pair of 9.750s and a 9.850, before sitting out the next two.

“(The coaches) took me out to build my confidence back up and make sure I got numbers under my belt before putting me back out there,” she said.

Ewing was far from shaken, however, as she came back to finish the season strong. In the final 11 competitions, she scored at least 9.825 in 10 of them and really hit her stride in the postseason.

She scored a career-high 9.90 in the NCAA regional and matched that in the national semifinals to earn a spot in the individual event finals. Ewing scored a 9.875 in the Super Six finals to help LSU to a third-place national finish. She tied for third in the event final with a 9.8875 to earn first-team All-American honors.

Ewing became the first LSU freshman to earn first-team All-America honors since Colleen Barger in 1997 and was the second freshman to accomplish that feat on beam — joining Jeanie Beadle, who did it in 1977.

“I just came in every day and did my best, and it definitely paid off,” Ewing said. “Making the event finals and getting third, that was beyond anything I could ever have imagined.”

Ewing had the background to do it. She was the only Level 10 gymnast at Acadiana Gymnastics, where she was coached by her mother, Donna, and didn’t have anyone else to push her.

At LSU, she found plenty of competition.

“Both last year and this year, we’ve had so many upperclassmen that set good examples with their work ethic,” Ewing said. “When I got here, I definitely got better because they push us to get better.

“I owe a lot to my teammates for helping me last year. The coaches pushed me to reach my full potential; that’s what helped me so much last year.”

Also helping was a connection to LSU coach D-D Breaux, who had tracked Ewing for years and got to know her a lot better when she attended their camps.

“We knew she was a pretty good competitor,” Breaux said. “She just stepped in here and made her mark. She kind of hit her stride and continued to make progress all season.”

In her second season, Ewing has added two more events to her repertoire.

She’s helped fill in the gap on vault and floor exercise after the loss of two key seniors, Sarie Morrison and Dickson, from last year’s team. Ewing has posted career-highs of 9.925 on both vault and floor and matched her career-best on beam with a 9.90.

She’s done well enough to help the Tigers rank no worse than fourth in the nation all season going into the NCAA championships that start Friday in Fort Worth, Texas. She hopes to be a factor in two or three events this time as LSU chases an elusive team title.

There is another big difference: She’s going this time as a scholarship athlete after being rewarded for her All-America performance as a freshman.

“This year has been so much fun; we have a new team and a new dynamic, and our seniors are doing a good job leading us,” Ewing said. “Every meet has been something to cherish.”