“Tigers, not daughters …”
— William Shakespeare, King Lear
A winter of discontent on the LSU football field has been followed by an LSU spring with successful teams blooming everywhere.
And LSU’s women’s programs are leading the charge.
The LSU softball team, 28-1 after beating Nicholls State 6-1 Tuesday night, ascended to No. 1 in its sport’s two major national polls earlier in the day for the first time after winning two of three at previous No. 1 Florida. Coupled with baseball, it gives LSU the rare feat of being No. 1 in both sports.
The gymnasts haven’t been to top of their rankings in 2015 but have been as high as No. 2 and are currently at No. 3 based on average meet scores. The gymnastics Tigers went undefeated in Southeastern Conference regular-season meets for the first time this year, 7-0, taking that perfect mark into Saturday’s SEC championships in Duluth, Georgia.
The women’s golf team is ranked 14th (the men are No. 12), the women’s swimming and diving team is ranked 19th going into this weekend’s NCAA championships, and the Lady Tigers basketball team is back in the NCAA tournament for the 16th time in the past 17 years, joined by the men for the first time since 2009.
“It’s a good time to be a Tiger,” gymnastics coach D-D Breaux said.
LSU has won 46 national championships. It might surprise you to know that 25 of those have been won by LSU women’s track and field teams.
Though rankings are ultimately meaningless numbers, they show softball and gymnastics have legitimate shots at joining track on the podium this year.
“It’s a really great moment in the history of this program,” softball coach Beth Torina said. “It’s something that has been earned, and the foundation has been laid for us by all the great players and special teams we’ve seen come through here.
“The girls have worked so hard for this. They haven’t just fallen into this spot. It’s something I feel they’ve truly earned by the work and effort they’ve put in.”
The successes in gymnastics and softball haven’t been overnight sensations. It’s a commitment by LSU, Breaux said, and that commitment has to be built brick by brick.
LSU softball moved into its current Tiger Park in 2009, the same year baseball’s new Alex Box Stadium debuted, replacing the old Tiger Park that was intended as a short-term solution but served as softball’s home way too long.
It was shoehorned into the northern edge of the campus next to the soon-to-be left behind W.T. “Dub” Robinson Tennis Stadium. Because the two facilities were wingtip to wingtip, foul balls from Tiger Park were known to come crashing down over the fence separating them in the middle of tennis matches.
There are deniers out there – Flat Earthers, College Division – who say facilities don’t matter. But they do. Gymnastics is getting a state-of-the-art practice facility between “The Dub” and the Pete Maravich Assembly Center (hard by the dual men’s and women’s basketball practice gyms, another recruiting magnet). The facility will be operational this fall, a big reason LSU attracted a stellar recruiting class this year. Men’s and women’s tennis will also move later this year to their new facility on Gourrier Avenue across from Alex Box, where they will flourish on indoor courts for the first time.
“We don’t want for anything,” Torina said. “We’ve gotten great players to come here because of the facilities and support we have. The culture of this place is special and a place where kids want to come.”
Gymnastics’ move out of its dingy dungeon in the Carl Maddox Field House is to Breaux because of a mindset, a commitment, a (to borrow a Les Milesism) want. Much of it she credits to current Athletic Director Joe Alleva, who oversaw the beautification of Tiger Stadium and its latest expansion (which was tied financially to the gymnastics and tennis facilities).
“It’s a lot of people pulling in the right direction,” Breaux said.
“I don’t think the face of LSU has ever looked better. Look what we’re doing to Tiger Stadium. We tore down that erector set, that sorry excuse of a softball stadium, and look what a difference a premier stadium makes. It means there is a relevance there, a real value.
“I could not be prouder of what LSU is doing for the student-athletes and for the state.”
Do new facilities guarantee championships? Certainly not. Facilities improvements are always a moving target.
But they help greatly, and LSU teams like softball and gymnastics are proving it. And maybe their success will rub off.
“Spring is going to lead us into the fall,” Breaux said.
Miles will be happy to hear that.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.