Rested Tigers gymnasts back at work _lowres

Advocate staff photo by HEATHER McCLELLAND -- LSU gymnasts enjoyed a short rest before preparing fo rthe NCAA regional Saturday in Ames, Iowa.

After equal parts work and rest the past four days, the fourth-ranked LSU gymnastics team began its final push Monday toward its goal of bringing home the program’s first national title.

With months of practice and competition behind them, the Tigers went back to work after a two-day respite from the gym and began focusing on the task at hand: improving on their best-ever third-place finish at last year’s NCAA championships.

After a second-place effort at the Southeastern Conference championships March 21, LSU coach D-D Breaux gave the Tigers some time off and brought them back Thursday and Friday for workouts before having the weekend off.

The rest at this time in the season did wonders, sophomore all-arounder Ashleigh Gnat said.

“Last week in the gym, we were really focused and really just practicing everything that we’ve been talking about this whole season,” Gnat said of having four days to relax a little.

“Then, we had a couple of days off for the weekend. And we were able to give our bodies more rest so we could come back this week to mentally prepare ourselves for this weekend.”

Now that the regular season and SEC championships are in the books, the task for the rest of the season is simple — on paper, anyway.

LSU will take part in the NCAA Ames (Iowa) regional at Iowa State at 4 p.m. Saturday against five other schools. The top two finishers will join the top two teams from the other five regionals being held across the country the same day in the national semifinals April 17 in Fort Worth, Texas.

The top three teams from each of the two semifinal sessions will earn spots in the Super Six finals April 18.

LSU, a top seed for the regional for the second year in a row, will go against ninth-ranked and second-seeded Nebraska, 16th-ranked and No. 3 seed Denver, fourth-seeded Washington, No. 5 seed Michigan State and host Iowa State, the sixth seed.

The other regionals are being hosted by Auburn, Cal-Berkeley, Ohio State, Oklahoma and West Virginia.

Breaux said Monday she’s not concerned about her veteran team looking too far ahead and not paying enough attention to the task awaiting Saturday.

“I really don’t,” she said. “I think this team is focused on what we’re going to do day-to-day in practice. They really don’t look past the moment.

“They look forward to their days off, especially when the weather is nice like this weekend and they can go watch some baseball games or tennis matches on campus. But they’ll be ready.”

Gnat said that was evident in their two practices sessions late last week.

“I really think that we’re just showing improvement in a lot of areas,” she said. “We’re really just fine-tuning all our skills.”

There will, no doubt, be an emphasis this week on the balance beam after some hiccups on that apparatus at the SEC meet cost them a shot at the team title and they went on to finish just .075 behind Alabama.

Breaux said that will be taken care of going into the regional.

“I was upset, but only because we’re so good on beam,” she noted. “We’re usually so prepared. We just didn’t have that, ‘We-have-this attitude.’ But they got that attitude after beam.”