After coaching the LSU gymnastics team for nearly four decades, a tenure in which she’s had lots of highs and lows, D-D Breaux wasn’t about to let the disappointment of the 2015 season get her down.
Not by a long shot.
So when Breaux got over the initial shock of having one of her most talented teams fail to reach the Super Six finals for the first time in three seasons last April after a meltdown on beam, she had two building projects on her hands.
One was to oversee completion of a state-of-the-art training facility, which at the time was about 50 percent done. The other was to get the Tigers, who were third in the nation in 2014, back to nationals to compete for a title.
While getting into the new training facility was a longtime dream of Breaux’s, being in the hunt for a national title became the greater priority when LSU finished fifth in its semifinals session.
Luckily for the program, the energetic Breaux refocused quickly and soon was on track to get both done following a conversation with LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva.
“When I woke up the next day, I called Joe,” Breaux said this week. “I was still upset, but he was like, ‘Hey, it’s competition.’ He reminded me that it’s not world hunger and said, ‘Let’s move on.’ So that was positive stuff.”
After a short time, associate head coach Jay Clark said, Breaux was back at it again — preparing for the 2016 season which will culminate, they hope, with a return to the Super Six on Saturday night.
To get there, third-ranked LSU will have to finish in the top three in the first of two semifinal sessions at 1 p.m. Friday in the Fort Worth Convention Center — the site of last year’s championships.
LSU, which claimed its fourth consecutive regional title with a score of 197.300 two weeks ago, will vie with No. 2 Florida, No. 6 Auburn, No. 10 Georgia, No. 14 Minnesota and No. 18 Stanford for three Super Six spots.
“Privately, there was a little more (time),” Clark said of the time needed to get over last season. “D-D was saying the right things, but you’re human regardless of how long you’ve been doing this or how thick your skin is. There’s a human element to it and you hurt, just like these kids hurt when they come up short.
“You’re going to have days where you’re disappointed to a point where you don’t know how you start again. But you do, and D-D is very good at being able to compartmentalize things and move forward. ... She’s a master at it.”
Sitting in the stands and watching Super Six a year ago helped make Breaux and her returning athletes hungrier, she said, to get back there after qualifying in 2013 and ’14.
The 2014 team finished third in the country — the highest in program history.
“It mattered ... it really mattered to this group,” Breaux said of watching last year’s finals. “For our team to perform so well all season and not hold up in that one area was kind of a mystery. But it happens in that event.”
Once she got over that disappointment, there was no need to look back.
“I think it took a little time for her to get past it, but you would have never known the way she dealt with the kids,” Clark said. “It was, ‘OK, let’s get back to the grind ... and here we go.’ ”
While LSU lost All-Americans Rheagan Courville, Jessie Jordan and Lloimincia Hall from last year’s team, the Tigers returned a strong nucleus.
Five All-Americans — seniors Jessica Savona and Randii Wyrick, juniors Ashleigh Gnat and Sydney Ewing and sophomore Myia Hambrick — were joined by highly regarded recruits in Sarah Finnegan, Lexie Priessman and McKenna Kelley to form the core of this group.
“We had to put last year aside and not coach our team from a fear of that happening again,” Breaux said. “We coached this team in the same kind of manner, the same positive way. Nothing we did with the team changed.”
To this point, the results have been positive and encouraging to Breaux.
The Tigers, who were ranked fifth in the preseason, rose to the top spot after the first meet. They ranked no lower than seventh all season and have scored at least 197 in seven of their last eight competitions in holding on to the No. 3 spot in the national rankings.
As a result, Breaux believes her team can get back to where it belongs.
“Every day we come to work saying, ‘What can we do to make a difference?’ ” she said. “Our kids have jumped little hurdles and have gotten better, and they’re looking forward to nationals.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter, @MicklesAdvocate.