When she came to LSU, all Myia Hambrick hoped to do was to somehow get into competition on an already talented team.
“One event, two events, whatever,” Hambrick said. “I just wanted to be here and be part of the team, really.”
In her sophomore season, Hambrick has blossomed into more than just part of No. 3 LSU’s team.
She is the Tigers’ bedrock.
Junior Ashleigh Gnat may be LSU’s biggest star, No. 1 in the nation on vault going into Saturday’s Southeastern Conference championship meet and tied for first nationally on floor.
But Gnat isn’t quite at her best on the uneven bars, and as a result is rarely asked to compete as an all-arounder.
That is Hambrick’s domain. She’s tied for seventh nationally among all-arounders, the Tigers’ highest-ranked individual after Gnat. They’ll lead LSU into the evening rotation Saturday with No. 1 Florida, No. 4 Alabama and No. 6 Auburn at Verizon Arena in North Little Rock, Arkansas.
The meet will be televised live on the SEC Network.
Hambrick said someone asked her if it was her final home meet at LSU’s senior night two weeks ago against Alabama.
D-D Breaux isn’t surprised.
“Very mature,” LSU’s coach said. “She’s exactly how she presents herself. She’s very compliant, a great team leader, but hasn’t stepped forward to be in front of anybody. If Ashleigh Gnat’s the leader you’ve got to have a great first follower, and she’s that.”
It was her heart that Hambrick followed to LSU.
She grew up in the west Georgia town of Temple, along Interstate 20 between Atlanta and Birmingham. Temple is right in the midst of a triangle of three other top 10-ranked SEC schools: 2½ hours away from Alabama, a little under two hours from Georgia and Auburn.
LSU is seven hours from her home, but Hambrick said it felt more like home than any of those other three schools.
“When it came to recruiting, some of the schools weren’t interested as much,” Hambrick explained. “LSU was constantly calling and emailing, making sure I knew they were interested. That set them apart. Though the other schools were close, I didn’t have the same contact.”
Like Gnat, whose mother was an Olympian and father an LSU gymnast, Hambrick was coached by her mother, Laurie, out of her West Georgia Gymnastics facility since “I was a baby” — an experience she regards as an asset in her gymnastics development.
“I think we can collectively agree it’s one of those things where you really love it or you really don’t love it,” Hambrick said. “Personally, I really loved it. I had other coaches come and go, but no one the whole time. It was a rocky road at times, when you get to that age when you don’t like your parents. When those days would come, she would just take it.”
Once at LSU, Hambrick competed only a couple of times as a freshman all-arounder but still quickly made her mark. She was SEC vault champion, securing All-SEC honors, and went on to be a first-team All-American in the event.
Going into the 2016 season, Hambrick added a couple of moves to improve her level of difficulty and as a result, her scores. She incorporated a double layout move to her floor routine and a tougher release on bars, her favorite event.
“A lot of people don’t come to college and add skills, but I did,” Hambrick said.
The results have been tangible. Hambrick has competed as an all-arounder in all but one of LSU’s events and ranks in the top 50 nationally in all four disciplines, all of her Regional Qualifying Scores (RQS) at 9.880 or better.
“I just go into (each meet) like I do in practice, thinking about small little things to make it better, but also having fun,” Hambrick said. “When I’m out there with all those people it’s hard not to be in a good mood.
“I’m like, ‘Wow, I’m doing all these events all the time.’ But more than anything it’s an honor that not just the coaches but the team trust me to do this.”
The Tigers couldn’t do as well without her.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.