ST. LOUIS — For two-plus seasons now, LSU has been the model of consistency in women’s gymnastics.
Saturday night in the Southeastern Conference Championship meet the Tigers were not at their best, but their NCAA record run of consistency was plenty good enough to make them repeat champions as the teams around them stumbled and wobbled enough to let LSU surge past.
LSU grinded out a victory with a 197.400, the Tigers’ lowest score since a 197.150 on Feb. 9 at Missouri. But the Tigers’ consistency paid off with a string of good-if-not-great scores as LSU’s two closest challengers, Alabama and Florida, could not crack 197. Bama finished second at 196.975, while Florida was third at 196.825.
In the process, LSU set an NCAA record with its 36th consecutive score of 197 or better dating back to midway through the 2016 season. The Tigers’ score broke a tie with Oklahoma, which had 35 straight 197s or better from 2016 until its streak was snapped in February.
“Consistency paid off,” LSU coach D-D Breaux said. “And not getting slump-shouldered. We made a little mistake, and the next person tried to correct it.
“We had a little bit of struggle here and there. But they never stopped with that tenacious Fighting Tiger spirit that they had.”
No LSU gymnasts won any of the four individual event titles, but again here consistency paid off for junior Sarah Finnegan. The St. Louis native posted won the all-around with a score of 39.500, edging out Florida’s Alicia Boren (39.475).
“I did have a lot of people come out,” Finnegan said, “a lot of family and friends I haven’t seen in a while. Coming out on top in front of them was really cool, because not a lot of them get to see me perform.
“It was just a great night.”
LSU opened with a solid 49.400 on vault, a tenth of a point above the Tigers’ season RQS (regional qualifying score average). But LSU then posted the same score on uneven bars while Florida zoomed past with a 49.550 on beam, led by a near perfect 10 from Alyssa Baumann (9.975). LSU’s RQS on beam coming in was an NCAA-best 49.580.
At the midway point, Florida led LSU 98.950-98.800, a moment of concern for the Tigers considering the Gators posted a plus-198 score to topple No. 1 Oklahoma earlier this season.
Then disaster struck for the Gators. Florida had to count a fall on floor, a 9.175 from Megan Skaggs, after double SEC event winner Alex McMurtry (vault, bars) tumbled out of bounds late in her routine for a 9.125. That ultimately resulted in a 48.400 that dropped Florida from first to fourth place with one rotation to go.
While the Gators were suffering through a an epic meltdown on floor, Breaux was keeping tabs between hiding her face behind volunteer coach Ashleigh Clare-Kearney Thigpen as her Tigers performed on beam.
“I kind of looked over, and I saw one (Florida gymnast) fall,” Breaux said. “You don’t always want your team to know the scores. You want them to focus on the performance.
“All we had to do was hit our floor routines.”
After a 49.300 in the third rotation on beam, all LSU basically had to do as it finished on floor was keep from falling victim to a similar fate as Florida. That the Tigers did, posting a 49.300 without even counting a closing 9.700 from Myia Hambrick, the senior who came in No. 1 on floor.
“Winning the SEC is awesome,” said Hambrick, one of five LSU gymnasts to earn All-SEC honors. “Being undefeated twice in a row is really cool, because it’s not easy. There are a lot of good teams.”
LSU (22-1) returns home to await its NCAA regional assignment. The NCAA field will be announced at 3 p.m. Monday. After that, the Tigers expect to be back in Chaifetz Arena for the NCAA championships, April 20-21.
“We have a boost of confidence knowing we have won a championship in this arena,” Finnegan said. “We have a feel for the equipment and the atmosphere here.”
And the knowledge that they don’t always have to be perfect to come out on top.
SEC Championship meet results
1. LSU 197.400 (Vault — 49.400, Bars — 49.400, Beam — 49.300, Floor — 49.300)
2. Alabama 196.975
3. Florida 196.825
4. Kentucky 196.550
5. Arkansas 196.425
6. Georgia 196.350
7. Missouri 196.100
8. Auburn 195.650
Individual (includes first place and all LSU competitors)
All-Around — 1. Sarah Finnegan, LSU, 39.500; 2. Alicia Boren, Florida, 39.475; 3. Kennedi Edney, LSU, 39.450; T4. Amelia Hundley, Florida, Sydney Snead, Georgia, 49.425; 6. Myia Hambrick, LSU, 39.350.
Vault — 1. Alex McMurtry, Florida, 9.975; T4. Sarah Edwards, Kennedi Edney, LSU, 9.90; T13. Sarah Finnegan, Julianna Cannamela, LSU, 9.875; T18. Myia Hambrick, LSU, 9.85; 47. Ruby Harrold, LSU, 9.30.
Bars — 1. Alex McMurtry, Florida, 9.95; T2. Myia Hambrick, Kennedi Edney, Lexie Priessman, LSU, 9.90; T7. Sami Durante, Sarah Finnegan, LSU, 9.85; T38. Ruby Harrold, LSU, 9.75.
Beam — 1. Alyssa Baumann, Florida, 9.975; T4. Sarah Finnegan, LSU, 9.925; T7. Myia Hambrick, LSU, 9.90; T12. Christina Desiderio, LSU, 9.875; T24. Erin Macadaeg, Kennedi Edney, LSU, 9.80; T35. Reagan Campbell, LSU, 9.775.
Floor — T1. Ariana Guerra, Alabama, Alicia Boren, Florida, Sidney Dukes, Kentucky, 9.90; T4. Christina Desiderio, Lexie Priessman, LSU, 9.875; T8. Ashlyn Kirby, Kennedi Edney, Sarah Finnegan, LSU, 9.85; T40. Myia Hambrick, LSU, 9.70.
LSU All-SEC performers
Myia Hambrick, senior
Sarah Finnegan, junior
Lexie Priessman, junior
Kennedi Edney, sophomore
Christina Desiderio, freshman
Sarah Edwards, freshman
LSU All-SEC freshmen