Sarah Edwards could feel the jitters as she waited to make her first collegiate run on vault.
The freshman gymnast wasn’t sure what to expect when LSU competed against Arkansas on Jan. 5. It didn’t help that 10,755 were in the stands at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, a school record for a season opener.
Coach D-D Breaux sensed what Edwards was feeling. After 41 years at LSU, she’s seen it all before.
And considering Edwards was scheduled to compete in two events that night, the vault and floor exercises, Breaux needed her freshman less worried about her inexperience and more focused on performing the way she had in practice.
“(Breaux) kept coming up to me and telling me to blink really fast, close my eyes and take a breath just to calm me down,” Edwards said.
“She constantly was coming up to me, even before it was my turn, trying to calm me down.”
Edwards scored a 9.825 on both vault and floor.
But her scores — which contributed to what was the best team total in the nation for Week 1 — weren’t her most important achievements that night.
Edwards proved she can handle herself in a lineup that had several key question marks.
Fortunately for LSU, she wasn’t alone.
Along with Edwards, the Tigers started four freshmen in five event spots for the season-opening meet. They then matched those numbers the next week at Florida in a Top 10 matchup.
Both meets finished with LSU breaking the 197 mark.
Breaux did not specify who will start in Friday’s home meet against No. 9 Alabama.
“It was so exciting,” Sami Durante said of her first meet. “It was crazy. There were so many fans. I’ve never experienced anything like that. I’ve been to a lot of college meets, but I’ve never been on the floor.”
LSU has more freshmen on this year's roster than at any time since 2011 — but young teams aren’t a rarity.
The Tigers were in a similar situation two years ago when Sarah Finnegan, McKenna Kelley, Lexie Priessman and Julianna Cannamela were young freshmen making waves in the lineup. And just like that team, the current roster also claims three seniors and a strong junior class to lean on while younger gymnasts settle into their roles.
The 2016 season finished as the most successful in program history to that point.
“We want them to stay in their own shoes. We don’t want them to think they have to fill a void,” Breaux said. “There’s a lot of them and we’re relying on them a lot, but when you’re the first person up on bars at an away meet as a freshmen and (Sami Durante) makes the handstand statement she makes, that really sets the table. It sets the tone for everybody because it says, ‘I’m here I am; I’m a freshman; I’m first up; here I go.’ ”
So far, eight of the freshmen’s 10 routines scored 9.800 or better.
Edwards has the high score with 9.900 on vault at Florida.
Christina Desiderio (beam) and Durante (bars) are tied for the best single-event average with 9.838.
Reagan Campbell improved the most from the first meet to the second, jumping one-tenth of a point.
Desiderio and Campbell were also crucial in securing a narrow victory at Florida in the final event of the night. Desiderio posted a 9.850, Campbell a 9.825.
Breaux said she’d like to see Desiderio — a two-time U.S. National Team member who finished sixth overall in the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials — make her way into the floor lineup.
Durante said she’s also been training on beam.
“It’s definitely been different,” Desiderio said. “It’s different having a whole team behind me rather than me going up there cheering for myself. Having the home crowd has been amazing.
“I knew it was going to be fun, but I didn’t expect it to be this much fun.”