During a rough start to the 2012 season, a freshman- and sophomore-laden LSU gymnastics team found some positives that served it well at the back end of its schedule.
Despite their youthfulness and a rash of injuries, the Tigers advanced through the NCAA regional to the national semifinals. Even though they didn’t qualify for the Super Six finals, they finished 11th in the nation.
While they didn’t achieve their goal of making the Super Six, it wasn’t all bad for a team that was ranked 25th early in the year.
Still, the foundation was established for the 2013 season, which begins at 7 p.m. Friday when the Tigers, ranked eighth in the GymInfo Coaches Preseason Poll, host No. 22 North Carolina State in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
D-D Breaux, who begins her 36th season as the Tigers coach, will be seeking her 600th victory in a highly anticipated season opener after adding a couple of pieces to the puzzle during the past recruiting season.
“We’re excited … we’re always excited about a new season,” Breaux said.
“Last year, we felt like we grew a lot in the process of the season and we had a good national finish.
“The best part of it is we got better as the season progressed. We had some young gymnasts who learned how to compete and beat people, and we feel like we’re bringing that into the start of this season.”
Breaux welcomes back a star-studded sophomore class that includes University High graduate Rheagan Courville, Lloimincia Hall, Jesse Jordan and Randi Lau, and three key juniors in Sarie Morrison, Maliah Mathis and Kaleigh Dickson.
Morrison, Dickson, Courville and Hall are returning All-Americans, while Courville, Hall and Jordan earned All-Southeastern Conference honors as well.
To that group, Breaux and her staff added a heralded freshmen class that includes Jessica Savona, an alternate on the 2012 Canadian Olympic team, and Randii Wyrick, the reigning Junior Olympics all-around champion.
All of which has Breaux hopeful this year’s team can take the next step after an 11-meet regular-season schedule takes them into the postseason.
“Even though we didn’t make the Super Six last year, we feel like we can carry that into this season and improve on it,” Breaux said.
“We feel that we have more talent and more depth. And the coaching staff is very competitive and very experienced, so we’re looking forward to getting started.”
While the coaches are eager to see what they have, Breaux said the athletes have been ready after training all fall.
“The kids are tired of hearing what they’re not doing and what they need to do better,” she said. “To improve in gymnastics, you have to eliminate the small technical errors and you do that through competition.
“The judges help you get that done and opponents other than ourselves help get that done.
The kids are anxious to start competing because they’re excited about the gymnastics they’re doing in the gym right now.”
Breaux said she is looking forward to seeing the results from recruiting some high-caliber athletes that add more depth and difficulty in their routines — which should be a boost for the program.
Breaux’s coaching staff also has a new look with the addition of longtime Georgia assistant coach and head coach Jay Clark as associate head coach.
Clark joins holdovers Bob Moore and Ashleigh Clare-Kearney.
Clark will serve as associate head coach, recruiting coordinator and uneven bars coach. He helped Georgia claim seven NCAA team championships and 12 SEC titles in 20 years there and was named NCAA national assistant coach of the year in 2006.
One of the keys to a successful season will be in staying relatively healthy, Breaux said.
Last season, Morrison battled an ankle injury that required two operations, while Mathis had a nagging ankle problem.
Their health issues forced the then-freshmen class to carry more of the load, Breaux said.
“We feel like we’re not going to have to press the freshmen into doing the all-around,” she said. “We’re going to try and spread it out and give as many kids as possible an opportunity to get good competitive experience.”