The NCAA gymnastics regional at LSU started Thursday in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center with the play-in meet between George Washington and Lindenwood.
The real drama was next door at the LSU gymnastics practice facility.
Here was LSU coach D-D Breaux, dashing out the door because her daughter, former LSU soccer player Sara Dickson, had just gone into labor with her second child.
There was senior Sarah Finnegan, wearing a mask and wrapped in a blanket because she has come down with the flu, leaving her unable to practice.
And over there was fellow senior Lexie Priessman, who wrenched the same bicep in practice Thursday that she hurt at Kentucky on Feb. 8, an injury that kept her out of the LSU lineup for three weeks.
In another season of great success melded with high drama, it appeared to be par for the Tigers’ course as they prepared to step into competition Friday for the first of two meets they need to excel in to advance to the NCAA Championships later this month in Fort Worth, Texas.
It all had associate head coach Jay Clark looking a bit like a gymnast making a complicated tumbling pass, feeling for where this thing was going to land.
“I’m always concerned,” Clark said. “I’m confident in these guys, but at the same time you try to look at every possible circumstance and make sure you’ve prepared for it.”
LSU competes in Session II at 7 p.m. Friday. The Tigers, the No. 3 national seed, take on No. 14 Auburn and Arizona State along with GWU. Session I at 2 p.m. features No. 6 Utah, No. 11 Minnesota, BYU and Arkansas.
The top two teams from each session advance to Saturday’s 7 p.m. regional final. The top two teams in that final advance to Fort Worth, April 19 and 20.
At first glance, LSU could not seem to be entering NCAA competition in better shape. The Tigers have averaged more than a 198 score their past four meets, including 197.900 to win their third straight Southeastern Conference championship meet two weeks ago in New Orleans.
But Clark frets over the fragility behind the Tigers’ success, worries amplified by Thursday’s issues with Finnegan and Priessman. Other LSU gymnasts have also been battling health issues, including senior Julianna Cannamela, sophomore Sami Durante and sophomore Reagan Campbell.
For their part, Finnegan and Priessman insisted they will compete this weekend, though both admitted they may have to listen if their bodies tell them to pull back from a routine or two.
“Your body is kind of on auto pilot,” said Finnegan, the two-time SEC all-round champion and gymnast of the year, through her surgical mask. “You know what you’ve got to do.”
Priessman said she felt better after the shock of wrenching her arm the same way she did in the Kentucky meet. A good sign for LSU perhaps, but Clark said that is always what she says when she’s hurt.
“I’m good,” she said. “I am. Honestly.
“I’m ready to go on whatever. But that’s up to the coaches.”
Priessman said she is confident if she or another one of LSU’s regulars is pulled from a routine that their backups will get the job done.
“Absolutely,” she said. “I have so much faith and trust in each one of them to go up there and hit a routine if needed. If someone has to go fill that spot, they’re prepared and ready just as much as we are.”
Clark echoed that, saying he feels sure the Tigers have enough skill to get the two scores they need to advance.
“I feel regardless of who we put out there we’re still an above-197 team,” he said. “If we do our job we’ll be fine.”
Ticket books for the entire regional are $16-24 for adults and $8-14 for youths ages 3-12, depending on location. Single session tickets for either of Friday’s sessions or Saturday are $6-10 for adults, $3-6 for youths and $3 per ticket for groups of 25 or more.
The meet will not be televised but will be streamed live on the WatchESPN app or at WatchESPN.com.
GWU 195.200, Lindenwood 194.475: Alexandra Zois won the titles in the all-around and floor exercise to lead the Colonials to victory Thursday afternoon over Lindenwood.
Zois posted a 39.175 in the all-around and a 9.875 on floor. Teammate Cydney Crasa won the vault title with a 9.825.
Lindenwood’s Andavea Alexander took first place on uneven bars and balance beam with scores of 9.75 and 9.825, respectively.