FORT WORTH, Texas — As shocking as LSU’s exit from the team competition was Friday night at the NCAA gymnastics championships, it was not the end of the Tigers’ season.
Six LSU gymnasts will compete Sunday in the individual event finals after finishing among the top four and ties among the gymnasts in the evening semifinal session.
Among them is senior Jessie Jordan, who managed to hold it together on the balance beam, where her team’s championship dreams crashed to the mat.
That didn’t surprise coach D-D Breaux.
“That’s what she has done her entire career,” she said. “She has ice water in her veins.”
Jordan’s score of 9.90 tied for second in the session, giving her a chance to compete for the national title — though she wasn’t quite ready to think about that Friday.
“I think I need to take a little time to process this because tonight was definitely a heartbreak,” she said. “But I love beam so much, so I’m excited to do it one more time.”
Other LSU qualifiers were Rheagan Couville (9.925), Shae Zamardi (9.90) and Randii Wyrick (9.90) on the uneven bars, Ashleigh Gnat (9.925) on the floor exercise and freshman Myia Hambrick, whose 9.950 was the night’s high score in the vault. It also matched her career high, set at the SEC championships.
Hambrick said as she’s gotten comfortable at the college level, she has been able to just react on the vault.
“I usually try not to think a whole lot,” she said. “I just go. This event is very natural for me. Just let it go and stick the landing.”
To the surprise of nobody, Florida and Utah advanced from Friday’s early semifinal session. The third finalist was a different story.
Stanford, seeded 11th among the 12 teams competing at the Fort Worth Convention Center, raced to a stunning lead after two rotations, then held on to claim third in the session and an unexpected spot in Saturday’s Super Six finals.
Stanford’s score of 197.175 trailed the 197.475 of No. 2 Florida and No. 3 Utah, but the Cardinal managed to edge No. 6 Michigan, which finished at 197.025.
There was another surprise in the evening session: Auburn, competing in its first NCAA meet since 2003, advanced to the Super Six for the first time since 1993. No. 1 Oklahoma and No. 5 Alabama also advanced.
Stanford rocketed to the lead on the strength of three gymnasts scoring 9.925 or better on the uneven bars and a 9.90 from Ivana Hong on the balance beam.
But Florida, the two-time defending champion, roared past Stanford on the strength of its star all-arounder. Kytra Hunter scored 39.600 in the four events to match UCLA’s Samantha Peszek for the early all-around lead, and posted the session’s best floor exercise score of 9.950 as well. She also tied for the top beam score at 9.900, the clinching score in the Gators’ final rotation.
Host with the least
The state of Texas earned the right to host the NCAA championships in part because of its reputation as a hotbed of gymnastics. Some of the nation’s top gyms are located in the Dallas and Houston areas, and recent Olympic all-around champions Carly Patterson and Nastia Liukin trained in Plano.
But none of Texas’ Division I schools have women’s gymnastics, leaving all that talent to find other places to compete in college. Two of them — Dallas’ Lloiminicia Hall and Houston’s Jessie Jordan — wound up at LSU.
But they are far from the only ones who have returned home for the NCAA championships. Ten of the 12 teams have gymnasts from the Lone Star State. In all, 29 Texans competed here.
End of an era
For Mike Smith, the NCAA championships is a farewell.
Smith, who handled the streaming audio broadcasts of LSU gymnastics competitions on the Tigers’ website for the past 10 years, said this meet is his last.
Smith said the travel has taken too much time away from his business — a communications company he founded and owns.
He will continue to serve as the public address announcer for the Tigers’ home meets.