It is said all the time in sports that the difference between winning and losing is small. Games come down to inches. Seconds count.
For the LSU gymnastics team, the difference in repeating as Southeastern Conference regular-season champions may have come down to a four inch-wide beam and 90 seconds junior All-American Sarah Finnegan spent on, above and around it.
Finnegan’s score of 9.925 this past Friday night in the anchor position on beam clinched LSU’s 197.250-197.125 victory at now No. 5-ranked Florida. It may also prove to bring home another conference trophy for an LSU gymnastics program that before last year fought for so long to win them.
There are no easy outs in SEC gymnastics. All eight of the conference’s gymnastics programs opened the 2018 season ranked inside the top 25. But winning at Florida, which finished third in the NCAA Championships in 2017 behind Oklahoma and LSU and returned all of its key scorers, was LSU’s biggest challenge.
LSU coach D-D Breaux was amazed at her team’s composure and workmanlike approach to the meet, especially since the Tigers have lost four major contributors from last season.
“You could coach your whole life and never coach an event like that,” Breaux said. “It was a max crowd, national TV, two great teams and it could have gone either way. They’re the home team, so advantage them. And we won.
“It was amazing. I’ve been part of some great wins, but the kids were so calm and cool about it. It was like, ‘We’re going to win this.’ There was no doubt about it. You have to learn how to step on them and hold them down. What a good team. They didn’t lose anyone from last year’s team. Our kids demonstrated so much discipline and team spirit that carried them through the whole meet.
“When it was over they didn’t celebrate. They were excited but it was like, ‘OK, we won.’ ”
A win that could mean more than a single “W” on the schedule.
There is still No. 9 Alabama this Friday night in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center (7:30 p.m., SEC Network). There’s Kentucky on Feb. 2, trips to Missouri and Georgia, and Auburn in Sunday home matinee on March 4. But barring any major setbacks, LSU will be favored to win all those meets. LSU will also take on Arkansas and Missouri, along with George Washington, in the four-team Mardi Gras Invitational on Feb. 16 in St. Charles, Missouri, but the results of that meet will not count toward the SEC standings.
The key has been LSU’s remarkable consistency. Friday’s winning score, following a 197.150 to beat Arkansas (195.350) on Jan. 5 in the Tigers’ season and home opener, was LSU’s 25th straight score of 197 or higher. While 198-plus is the goal, 197 is a benchmark where the Tigers have staked a home.
“It’s just consistency,” Breaux said. “Now we have to go in the PMAC on Friday, we call it the ‘Purple Zone,’ stay in that zone and do what we do.”
Breaux was a driving force behind making the SEC set up a regular-season championship a couple of years ago. She wants every meet to count, as every competition does in other sports.
“It’s a basketball game,” Breaux said. “It’s a boxing match. They take a hit, we take a hit, last man standing wins. That’s how it should be. Last performer, last event. We said it the last two years with Ashleigh Gnat (now a student assistant coach), if it comes down to last performer, last event, we win.
“This team is a little new, a little different dynamic. But the culture is the same. Our team culture is so good. They like each other, they understand each other, and their hearts are so deeply embedded in doing it for LSU. There’s so much gratification in coaching them and being around them.”
LSU is urging fans to arrive early for Friday night’s meet as a crowd even bigger than the 10,755 who turned out for the season opener with Arkansas two weeks ago is expected. As of mid-morning Wednesday, LSU officials say about 2,000 general admission tickets remained, including the program’s record 5,000-plus season tickets but not including student tickets.
Tickets are available at the LSU Athletic Ticket Office, at LSUTix.net, or by calling (225) 578-2184 or (800) 960-8587. LSU students showing valid ID are admitted free. The first 1,500 fans to enter the PMAC (doors open at 6 p.m.) will receive an Ashleigh Gnat bobble head.
Team SEC Pct. Overall Pct. High
LSU 2-0 1.000 2-0 1.000 197.250
Kentucky 1-0 1.000 4-0 1.000 196.950
Auburn 1-0 1.000 2-2 .500 196.625
Alabama 1-0 1.000 1-1 .500 196.525
Florida 0-1 .000 1-1 .500 197.125
Georgia 0-1 .000 0-2 .000 196.600
Missouri 0-1 .000 0-1 .000 194.875
Arkansas 0-2 .000 0-2 .000 196.525
LSU 197.250, Florida 197.125
Auburn 196.625, Missouri 194.875
Kentucky 196.950, Arkansas 196.525
Alabama 196.525, Georgia 194.525
Oklahoma 197.550, Georgia 196.600
Alabama at LSU, 7:30 p.m. (SEC Network)
Auburn at Georgia, 6 p.m.
Florida at Kentucky, 6 p.m. (SEC Network)
Arkansas at Missouri, 7 p.m.