AMES, Iowa — After her team avoided what could have been a bad misstep on each of its first two rotations Saturday, LSU gymnastics coach D-D Breaux decided it was time for a talk.
It’s not like fourth-ranked LSU, the top seed in the NCAA Ames regional, was in danger of not finishing among the top two teams, missing a spot at the national championships in the process.
Even though they dodged a couple of bullets after falls on bars and beam, some urging was definitely in order with the Tigers coming off a bye and preparing to wind up the meet on floor exercise and vault — their strongest events.
Breaux gathered her team around her in a corner of Hilton Coliseum and let the Tigers know what was happening.
“I gave them a colorful pep talk,” Breaux said after LSU claimed the regional with a 197.125 score to punch its ticket to the NCAA championships.
When pressed for details, Breaux could only smile.
“The one thing I can repeat is I told them there was blood in the water,” she said. “Nebraska was right there behind us and, every time we made a mistake, they would get better because of it. It was like blood in the water, and they were feeding off it and gaining momentum.”
No. 9 Nebraska eventually took the second spot available to the six teams competing in the regional with a 196.950 score, but the Cornhuskers were essentially out of it after Breaux laid things out.
LSU came through with a 49.450 on floor and topped that with a handy 49.475 on vault to clinch the 14th regional title and 26th NCAA championships appearance of Breaux’s 38-year tenure.
All-around champion Jessie Jordan, who won the beam title and tied for the floor crown in matching her career-high of 9.925, said the bye and wake-up call definitely came at the right time.
“It was something we needed to get through (the competition),” Jordan said. “We had lost our confidence a little bit in the first two rotations, but we got it back on floor.”
Rheagan Courville, who didn’t compete on floor exercise because of a nagging ankle injury, said Breaux’s message was on point — as usual.
“Mostly, it was about how we wanted to finish this meet,” Courville said after tying for the bars title with a 9.90. “After that, we came out with a vengeance and showed we’re a much stronger team than what we showed at the start. We picked things up, and that showed the character and depth of this team.”
Those are the qualities the Tigers hope will have them in the mix for their first national title. But they know they’re going to have to start better than they did Saturday — or even in the Southeastern Conference championships, when they compete in the national semifinals against five other teams April 17 in Fort Worth, Texas
The top three teams from the two semifinal sessions advance to the Super Six finals the next evening for a shot at taking it all.
“We have to focus on getting stronger starts before nationals,” Courville said. “We can’t let things like that get in the way of our confidence.”
After all, there will be no margin for error at nationals, like there was Saturday.
Still, it was impressive to watch once the Tigers got going. They had five scores of 9.850 or better on floor and snapped off five 9.875s or better on vault.
“They flipped the switch and went to floor, and it was like new life,” Breaux said with a smile. “Sometimes, especially at the championship meets like tonight, your ‘A’ game needs to be there on every event.
“I was OK with our score in the end. All we wanted to do is advance. They’ve got almost two weeks to examine what’s going on (at the start of meets) before the first event. They’ve got to say, ‘It’s on us.’ ”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.