They were passing out stick crowns for well-executed landings like Mardi Gras beads at the LSU-Kentucky gymnastics meet Friday night. But amid the coronations and the cheers from a second straight sellout crowd in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, this was a meet the No. 2-ranked Tigers had to dig out of the dirt.
“You know what the definition of digging a hole is?” LSU coach D-D Breaux asked. “When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”
The Tigers put themselves in a hole time and again in their last three routines — bars, beam and floor — with mistakes and major deductions that exerted pressure on the final two gymnasts in each rotation.
Each time they came through. Led by 9.975s from Myia Hambrick on floor and Sarah Finnegan on bars, LSU bent but never broke, earning a 197.225-196.700 victory over No. 6-ranked Kentucky before 13,185 fans, the third-largest home crowd in program history.
It was the 31st straight win at home against all opponents for LSU since 2013, keeping the Tigers (6-1, 4-0 Southeastern Conference) in first place with three meets to go. LSU also posted its 28th straight score of 197 or better dating to the 2014 season.
But once again, LSU had to work for it.
“We fought hard,” Breaux said. “It was a great competition and a great performance by Kentucky. They’re a very well prepared team.”
The Tigers were improvising from the start. Sophomore Ruby Harrold had trouble sticking her landings on vault and was replaced in the lineup by LSU’s top alternate, Julianna Cannamela. She had a 9.825 as the Tigers were unable to crack the 9.90 mark, Hambrick coming closest with a 9.875. Kentucky’s Alex Hyland won vault with a 9.925.
LSU jumped out to an early 49.225-49.050 lead after the first rotation, with the Tigers on vault and Kentucky (5-2, 2-2 SEC) starting on bars. When the Tigers turned to bars, their troubles really began. Harrold seated her landing in the No. 3 spot and was scored at 9.175. Kennedi Edney then over-rotated one of her moves, throwing off her entire routine and giving her a 9.40 that LSU had to count.
That left it to Lexie Priessman and Sarah Finnegan to save the event for LSU in the final two slots. They came through with a pair of clutch performances, scoring 9.95 and 9.975, respectively.
“A lot of athletes can’t watch the person before them,” Priessman said, “but I’m completely the opposite. I watch, because that’s what I do in the gym every day.
“As soon as (Harrold and Edney’s miscues) happened, I looked at Sarah. We gave each other knucks (knuckles) and we knew we had to do our job. I didn’t feel any extra pressure. I just do what they tell me to do.”
On beam, Cannamela had three breaks leading to a 9.325 in the fourth spot. Edney followed with a solid 9.825, then Finnegan anchored with a 9.90, finishing second in the event behind Hambrick’s 9.925. Though Breaux was pacing nervously throughout, LSU came through with a 49.450 on bars, its highest score on that apparatus this season.
On floor, Edney stepped out of bounds on her first pass, resulting on a 9.775. Finnegan again followed with a solid score, a 9.85, clearing the floor for Hambrick, the NCAA’s No. 1 performer on floor.
By the time she took the floor the meet was won for LSU, but Hambrick still gave an immaculate performance. She scored her second straight 9.975, not having less than 9.95 this season. It led to a 39.700 for the evening’s all-around title, the best all-around score of the senior’s career.
“I don’t know how I do it,” Hambrick said. “It’s just competing in the PMAC when it’s packed like that gives you an extra boost you can’t explain. It’s so amazing.”
Earlier, LSU put Priessman on floor for the first time this season. Arguably LSU’s most talented gymnast, the junior has battled numerous injuries since her junior gymnastics days, even winning the 2017 SEC bars title on torn knee cartilage.
Competing to a jaunty musical backdrop, Priessman scored a 9.875. As she hit her last landing, junior McKenna Kelley (out for the year with an Achilles tendon injury) grabbed Breaux just off the mat in a tight hug of happiness and relief.
“It was so fun,” Priessman said. “I did what I was capable of doing. This week the whole team and the coaches pushed me. It was the time of my life.”
LSU is back on the road next Friday for a 7:30 p.m. meet at No. 23 Missouri. LSU returns home Feb. 19 to host Texas Woman’s University.
1. #1 LSU 197.450 (Vault — 49.225, Bars — 49.150, Beam — 49.450, Floor — 49.400)
2. #6 Kentucky 196.700 (Vault — 49.125, Bars — 49.050, Beam — 49.300, Floor — 49.225)
Individual (includes first place and all LSU competitors)
All-Around — 1. Myia Hambrick, LSU, 39.700; 2. Sarah Finnegan, LSU, 39.575; 3. Alex Hyland, Kentucky, 39.425; 4. Kennedi Edney, LSU, 38.825; 5. Mollie Korth, Kentucky, 38.575.
Vault — 1. Alex Hyland, Kentucky, 9.925; 2. Myia Hambrick, LSU, 9.875; T3. Sarah Finnegan, Lexie Priessman, LSU, Danaea Davis, Kentucky, 9.85; T6. Julianna Cannamela, Sarah Edwards, Kennedi Edney, LSU, Sydney Dukes, Kentucky, 9.825.
Bars — 1. Sarah Finnegan, LSU, 9.975; 2. Lexie Priessman, LSU, 9.95; 3. Myia Hambrick, LSU, 9.925; 4. Sami Durante, LSU, 9.90; 5. Katrina Coca, Kentucky, 9.875; 6. Ella Warren, Kentucky, 9.825; 10. Kennedi Edney, LSU, 9.40; 11. Ruby Harrold, LSU, 9.175.
Beam — 1. Myia Hambrick, LSU, 9.925; T2. Erin Macadaeg, Christina Desiderio, Sarah Finnegan, LSU, 9.90; T5. Hailey Poland, Alex Hyland, Kentucky, 9.875; 10. Kennedi Edney, LSU, 9.825; 12. Julianna Cannamela, LSU, 9.325.
Floor — 1. Myia Hambrick, LSU, 9.975; T2. Lexie Priessman, LSU, Mollie Korth, Sidney Dukes, Kentucky, 9.875; T5. Sarah Edwards, Ashlyn Kirby, Sarah Finnegan, LSU, Ella Warren, Kentucky, 9.85; T11. Kennedi Edney, LSU, 9.775.