Ashleigh Gnat hits a round off onto the springboard, a back handspring off the vault table, then does one layout with a two full twists intermixed before she, hopefully, sticks the landing.
She’s the only collegian who throws the vault — a Yurchenko double full — in competition. Last season, she would throw it only at home, but now afforded the luxury of three training tables in the team’s new practice facility, she’s able to master the skill to use in all venues.
“All our mats are new and soft,” Gnat said. “It helps us prepare so much more.”
It was perfect on Friday.
Gnat scored a perfect 10.0 to anchor LSU’s vault rotation, and the Tigers got boosts from freshman Lexi Priessman on bars and another stellar showing from Sarah Finnegan on beam to plow past Kentucky 196.575-195.100 in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
“I wouldn’t say that I knew,” Gnat said. “We’ve been working on my legs in the air and a bunch of other things, so I wouldn’t say I definitely knew. I knew we had a ton of great vaults in our lineup, so just being a part of a lineup that’s that consistent and having so many good girls in front of me encourages me.”
The 10.0 was the first of Gnat’s career and first on vault for an LSU gymnast since both Rheagan Courville and Jessie Jordan were perfect in last season’s home finale against Minnesota. Gnat ended the meet with a 9.950 on floor to also capture that event title.
Myia Hambrick won her second all-around title of the season with a 39.325, including a season-high tying 9.875 on vault.
Though they weren’t without some hiccups, the Tigers were able to recoup from last week’s subpar outing in Las Vegas — especially on the balance beam.
Finnegan — who fell off bars in the previous rotation — steadied with a 9.90 to share the beam title with Kentucky’s Sidney Dukes but sandwiching her were two huge 9.875s from Gnat and Sydney Ewing that propelled the Tigers to a 49.125 event score, a full point ahead of last week’s nightmare, when two falls were counted.
LSU had two falls on the night — Finnegan’s on bars and a slip on a floor pass from Shae Zamardi — but, unlike last week, the Tigers were able to replace both scores with bigger scores.
“It was the kind of thing we struggled a little bit with last week, and that builds team character,” coach D-D Breaux said. “You can have a fall and it doesn’t affect the people after you.”
Competing just minutes after her perfect 10 and admittedly unable to completely calm her emotions, Gnat got over-extended on a bars handstand and though she didn’t fall, she had a form break that derailed the routine.
Hambrick and Jessica Savona followed with matching 9.85s before Priessman, who has been hampered by a nagging shoulder injury and had never competed a bars routine at LSU, took the event title with a stellar 9.925.
“It was absolutely amazing, and I could hear everyone cheering for me,” Priessman said. “I didn’t even feel there were 10,000 people around me; I just felt my team and myself cheering as if I was in the gym.”