FORT WORTH, Texas — Redemption was one word you didn’t hear around the LSU gymnastics team this season.
Three falls on the beam a year ago, which cost the Tigers a shot at competing for the national title, were forgotten long ago by a confident team that only wanted to focus on the here and now.
Third-ranked LSU proved it Friday at the NCAA championships with a near-flawless performance in the first of two semifinal sessions, earning the program its fifth appearance in the Super Six finals.
LSU went out and scored a 197.3375 to earn a spot in the Super Six, set to begin at 8 p.m. Saturday in the Fort Worth Convention Center (ESPNU). It was the second-highest score for LSU at nationals.
In its second event Friday, the Tigers recorded a 49.300 on beam that helped them hang with three-time champion Florida most of the day. Florida won the semifinal with a 197.4750, followed by LSU and Georgia (196.7250).
Those three will compete with the three teams that emerged from Semifinal II, which was contested Friday night: Oklahoma, Alabama and UCLA.
“I don’t think we were really thinking a lot about last year,” junior All-American Ashleigh Gnat said when the word redemption came up again Friday. “We were just focused on what we had to do today, and the team we have (now) creating momentum to go into (Saturday) with a good mindset.”
While LSU was able to get through beam with the second-highest score in that event at the national championships, the first event — uneven bars — was the one that set everything up, coach D-D Breaux said.
Gnat, who hadn’t competed on bars since March 5, was inserted into the lineup during a late-morning workout after Randii Wyrick was scratched with a shoulder problem.
“When we put ‘Bugs’ in there, it set the tone for the whole meet,” Breaux said.
Sophomore Myia Hambrick had a 9.8875 in the second spot to set up Gnat’s 9.80. Then freshmen Lexie Priessman and Sarah Finnegan delivered scores of 9.8875 and 9.90, and junior Shae Zamardi had a 9.850 to produce a team score of 49.3250 heading to beam.
Erin Macadaeg and Hambrick started it off with matching 9.875s before freshman Julianna Cannamela had a fall. But her score was thrown out as the lowest when Sydney Ewing (9.80), Finnegan (9.850) and Gnat (9.90) picked her up and finished off a 49.300 team score.
Breaux said Macadaeg and Hambrick set the table and the back end of the lineup came through, allowing them to drop Cannamela’s fall.
“We don’t talk about (beam) or dwell on not making it (to the Super Six) last year,” Breaux said. “This team has created its own energy and its own team dynamics and is destined to do great things. They’re just so passionate about what they do. They’re prideful, and there’s so much purpose every day in what they do.”
After LSU’s beam performance, Florida, which competed on beam and then floor exercise, had a slim 98.650-98.625 lead. Georgia and Minnesota were well back in third at 98.075.
From that point, LSU basically cruised to the Super Six with floor exercise and vaults ahead of them. The Tigers rank second in the nation on floor and lead the country on vault.
“The first two events (bars and beam) are naturally going to be the slower events before we go to the energetic events,” Gnat said. “So we had a good time. Once we finished beam, it was let loose and have some fun.”
They did, even though Florida widened the gap a little.
LSU had a 49.3750 on floor, which came from Hambrick’s 9.925 and four other scores ranging from 9.8875 to 9.8250.
Gnat had a team-best 9.925 on vault, and the other four scores the Tigers counted were between 9.875 and 9.850 as they scored a 49.3375.
Hambrick scored a 39.5625 in the all-around, while Gnat had a 39.500.
“We were just focused on moving forward and just doing exactly what we’ve been practicing,” Gnat said.
“I think we did a really good job of keeping up the energy. We started strong and kept up that momentum the entire time.”