For the second year in a row, the LSU gymnastics team is a solid No. 1 seed heading to an NCAA regional — the stepping stone for earning a spot in the national semifinals in two weeks.
There is one major difference: This time, fourth-ranked LSU has to travel to get where the Tigers eventually want to go after hosting a regional in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center last April.
Regardless of the locale, the goal at this stage of the season is the same: With a top-two finish in a six-team field at the Ames regional, which begins at 4 p.m. Saturday, the Tigers will nail down one of 12 semifinal berths for the NCAA championships April 17-19 in Fort Worth, Texas.
Nothing else will matter when LSU goes against No. 9 Nebraska, No. 16 Denver, No. 23 Washington, Michigan State and host Iowa State.
“It was great not to have to travel for regionals last year,” LSU coach D-D Breaux said. “If you’re not a coach, I don’t think you really understand. To be able to stay home and compete in a championship meet … that’s unbelievable.
“Iowa is as good a place to go as any. I’m just happy we didn’t have to go to California or West Virginia, because that’s the farthest they could have sent us.”
While it’s a different team and different place, Breaux wouldn’t mind one bit if the Tigers duplicate the dominant performance they produced in last year’s regional victory — the 13th regional title of her career. LSU delighted the home crowd in cranking out a school-record 198.375 score, which propelled the Tigers to a third-place national finish — the highest in program history — in the Super Six finals a couple of weeks later.
The goal this year is a national championship, so staying sharp while making another big statement will be on the Tigers’ minds after a second-place finish in the Southeastern Conference championship March 21.
“You have to make sure you keep the edge on your sword and don’t fall on your own sloppiness,” Breaux said. “You can slip up at this meet, but this team is pretty focused and ready for the task at hand.”
That focus is evident even though LSU, which ranked second or third in the nation most of the season, had a bit of a hiccup in its first rotation at the SEC championship.
The Tigers, who were ranked third in the nation on balance beam, put up a 48.975 — which tied their lowest score of the season — before ironing things out to finish just .075 points behind Alabama.
“We’ve had a few little glitches along the way, but for the most part, all of our performances have been exactly what we’ve wanted them to be,” Breaux said. “We’re prepared, the kids are prepared, for the next two meets. The training regimen has been extremely consistent and practice has been consistent. You expect to see in competition what you see in practice.”
Behind the consistent performances of all-arounders Rheagan Courville, Jessie Jordan and Ashleigh Gnat and floor exercise specialist Lloimincia Hall — all regular-season All-Americans — the Tigers have flourished.
Courville is LSU’s top performer, ranking third in the nation on vault and uneven bars, with Jordan third on beam. Courville ranks fourth in all-around and Jordan is fifth, while Gnat is 13th. Hall is the national leader on floor.
As a team, LSU leads the nation in floor exercise and is ranked second in vault, fourth on beam and fifth on bars. But the Tigers know there’s more out there, especially after letting an elusive SEC title slip through their fingers.
“It was definitely not the outcome we wanted at SECs,” Gnat said, “but I think that it has given us a lot of motivation. It’s helped us put extra emphasis on some things, the minor details we might have missed.”
Despite their lofty ranking, Breaux’s Tigers know they can’t get too far ahead of themselves.
“This team won’t look too far ahead,” she said. “They really don’t look past the moment, which is good.”