The LSU gymnastics team is ranked No. 2 in the country, leads the Southeastern Conference standings near the midway point of the league season and has strung together 27 straight scores of 197 or better dating back to the 2016 season, a streak of remarkable consistency when only a couple of falls in a meet can drop an elite team’s score into the 196 range.
It’s not enough.
When you’ve been as close as LSU has been to the mountaintop — the Tigers have finished second in the NCAA finals the past two years — you want to get all the way to the summit.
“I have individual accolades, which is nice, but I would really rather have that national championship as a team and be able to say I was on the team that did that,” said senior Myia Hambrick, a 12-time All-American and the NCAA No. 1 on floor exercise. “That’s what I’m working for.”
To do that, the Tigers have to take their internal high bar and set it even higher. That starts with Friday’s 7:30 p.m. meet against No. 6 Kentucky before SEC Network cameras and what is expected to be a second straight sellout crowd in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
“It’s time to ratchet it up,” said LSU coach D-D Breaux earlier this week, a bit of fire flickering in her eyes. “It’s time for our conversation to change a little bit.
“We’ve got to stick more landings on vault. We’ve got to become more confident and more aggressive on floor.”
LSU (5-1, 3-0 SEC) posted a 197.375 Saturday in the four-team Metroplex Challenge in Fort Worth, Texas, a score that’s actually a bit higher than the Tigers’ season average of 197.306. But LSU gymnasts had some wobbly vault landings and more missteps on floor and uneven bars, leaving the Tigers nearly three-tenths of a point behind No. 4 UCLA (197.650).
“We did not bring our best gymnastics” to Metroplex, Breaux said. “But this will be a turning point.”
It better be. Though Kentucky’s best score this season, a 196.950 Jan. 12 against Arkansas, is two-tenths less than LSU’s lowest score (197.150 on Jan. 5, also against Arkansas), Breaux said the Wildcats are more than capable enough of springing an upset if the Tigers aren’t on their game.
“They’re a great team,” she said. “They compete with a pretty high level of difficulty and good consistency. We’re looking forward to as good a meet as we’ve had in the PMAC in a long time.”
The Wildcats (5-1, 2-1) are led by sophomore Mollie Korth, ranked sixth nationally on vault and 25th as an all-arounder. Junior Sidney Dukes is 20th nationally on floor exercise while junior Alex Hyland is 27th in all-around and on balance beam. Kentucky also has freshman Madison Averett from French Settlement on its roster, but she hasn’t competed this season.
Breaux said she and her coaching staff planned to bring an added intensity and urgency to LSU’s practice sessions leading up to Friday’s meet, something she’s been hesitant to do since seven of her team’s 17 gymnasts are freshmen.
“There are some methods we use in training to put the kids in pressure situations where they have to hit back to back to back to back,” Breaux said. “If you don’t, you start over. We haven’t done that a lot this year because we’re so young, but we’re going to start to do that this week.
“We’ve got to ratchet it up.”
There’s that term again, as much the Tigers’ catch phrase at this point as any.
It isn’t as though LSU is struggling. After losing three seniors off last year’s team, led by 2017 NCAA floor champion-turned-student coach Ashleigh Gnat, plus the loss in November of junior McKenna Kelley to a season-ending Achilles’ tendon injury, LSU has more than remained relevant. The Tigers are ranked second nationally on floor and uneven bars, third on vault and fifth on beam.
Three Tigers are top 10 all-arounders: junior Sarah Finnegan is sixth (she’s also seventh nationally on bars and 10th on floor), sophomore Kennedi Edney is eighth (seventh on bars) and Hambrick is 10th. But the pressure to improve remains real, with the Tigers looking to incorporate more 10.0 start values into their vault routine.
“We’ve got it in our stable,” Breaux said, “but we’ve got to be smart about it.”
TICKET UPDATE: Fewer than 500 tickets remained Thursday afternoon for the LSU-Kentucky meet. School officials urge fans to arrive early. Doors to the PMAC open at 6 p.m., with team introductions starting at 7:15.
Tickets are available through the LSU Athletic Ticket Office starting at 8 a.m., or online at LSUTix.net.
Team SEC Pct. Overall Pct. High
LSU 3-0 1.000 5-1 .833 197.450
Kentucky 2-1 .667 5-1 .833 196.950
Alabama 2-1 .667 2-2 .500 196.725
Florida 1-1 .500 3-1 .750 198.150
Auburn 1-2 .333 2-4 .333 196.625
Missouri 1-2 .333 1-2 .333 196.325
Georgia 1-2 .333 1-3 .250 196.725
Arkansas 1-3 .250 1-3 .250 197.175
Florida 198.125, Oklahoma 198.050
Arkansas 197.175, Georgia 196.125
Alabama 195.850, Missouri 194.525
Kentucky 196.700, Auburn 196.250
UCLA 197.625, LSU 197.375, Washington 196.525, N.C. State 195.825
Kentucky at LSU, 7:30 p.m. (SEC Network)
Florida at Auburn, 6 p.m. (SEC Network)
Arkansas at Alabama, 7:30 p.m.
Missouri at Georgia, 1 p.m. (SEC Network)