The LSU Tigers and Auburn Tigers on Friday night epitomized the mantra of postseason competition:
Survive. And advance.
LSU, the No. 3 national seed, overcame the absence of senior Lexie Priessman and the illness of all-arounder Sarah Finnegan to win Session II Friday night with the day’s best score, a 197.200. Auburn also advanced with a 197.075.
No. 6-seeded Utah won Session I on Friday afternoon to advance with a 196.800 along with No. 11 Minnesota (196.300). Arkansas was third with a 196.175 and BYU fourth at 195.550.
The regional final is at 7 p.m. Saturday. The top two teams will advance to the NCAA Championships on April 19 and 20 in Fort Worth, Texas.
LSU was coming off a string of four straight meets in which it averaged over a 198 score, a mark of high excellence in collegiate gymnastics, including the Southeastern Conference championship two weeks ago in New Orleans.
But injuries and illness, coupled by the break in the Tigers’ momentum, left LSU dragging a bit, at least in comparison to its recent lofty standards.
“Coming off SECs and the bye week, it was difficult to come down and come back up again,” LSU junior Ruby Harrold said. “Today we felt like we had to get the dust off, mentally get through it. Just keep our heads down and let’s go.”
Priessman sat out after re-injuring the biceps in practice Thursday she hurt Feb. 8 at Kentucky. LSU coach D-D Breaux said it was doubtful that Priessman would compete Saturday but that she hoped to have her back if LSU advances to the national meet.
“She mends fast,” Breaux said. “The people we plugged in the lineup (in Priessman’s place) did well. Julianna (Cannamela) was in the vault spot (with a 9.80), and I think she will vault big tomorrow.”
Finnegan competed in LSU’s first three events despite battling the flu, winning the regional title on beam with a 9.925. It was the 85th victory over her brilliant career and her 26th career beam title, extending her school record. Her 43 wins this season are just two off the single-season school record shared by Susan Jackson (2010) and Sandra Smith (1980).
Breaux switched her lineup for floor, moving McKenna Kelley to the fifth spot and Finnegan to anchor. When Kelley sealed LSU’s victory with a 9.925, clinching a share of the regional floor title for herself with Utah’s McKayla Skinner, Finnegan was pulled from the final spot.
“We know how clutch Sarah is and what she does for the team,” Kelley said. “Letting her rest was key for us. I’m glad I could do that for her.”
Earlier in the meet, Auburn senior Samantha Cerio suffered a devastating injury on floor.
Making a tumbling pass in the middle of her routine, Cerio landed badly and fell to the mat clutching both legs in pain. The meet was halted for several moments as paramedics put air casts around both of her injured legs and carried her away on a stretcher to a standing ovation from the 5,537 fans in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
Despite the trauma of losing Cerio, Auburn finished strong with 49.350s on vault and bars to easily advance over Arizona State (195.425) and George Washington (194.675).
“She is the heart and soul of our team,” Auburn coach Jeff Graba said of Cerio. “We wanted more than anything to do this for her.”
Harrold said LSU’s gymnasts had a moment of reflection to think about Cerio and the Auburn team before going about the work of finishing the meet.
“Fortunately Auburn did well and did what they had to do to move on,” she said.
“I didn’t see it,” Breaux said of Cerio’s injury. “Jay (Clark) and Bob (Moore, LSU assistant coaches) saw it. It was really upsetting. I saw the look on our team doctor’s face. He had a real sense of urgency getting onto the floor.”
Skinner won the regional all-around title with a 39.525, edging out LSU’s Kennedi Edney, whose 9.825 score on floor drew boos from the crowd. Minnesota’s Ona Looper and Auburn’s Derrian Gobourne shared the vault title with 9.95s, while Arizona State’s Cairo Leonard-Baker won the bars title with a 9.925.
NCAA Baton Rouge regional results
1. LSU 197.200 (Vault — 49.250, Bars — 49.325, Beam — 49.325, Floor — 49.300)
2. Auburn 197.075 (Vault — 49.350, Bars — 49.350, Beam — 49.250, Floor — 49.125)
3. Utah 196.800 (Vault — 49.200, Bars — 49.325, Beam — 49.075, Floor — 49.200)
4. Minnesota 196.300 (Vault — 49.225, Bars — 49.250, Beam — 49.050, Floor — 48.775)
5. Arkansas 196.175 (Vault — 49.050, Bars — 48.900, Beam — 49.050, Floor — 49.175)
6. BYU 195.550 (Vault — 48.750, Bars — 49.000, Beam — 48.725, Floor — 49.075)
7. Arizona State 195.425 (Vault — 49.025, Bars — 49.025, Beam — 48.500, Floor — 48.875)
8. George Washington 194.675 (Vault — 48.625, Bars — 49.750, Beam — 48.725, Floor — 48.575)
Individual (includes top six and all LSU competitors)
All-Around — 1. McKayla Skinner, Utah, 39.525; 2. Kennedi Edney, LSU, 39.475; T3. Drew Watson, Auburn, Lexy Ramler, Minnesota, 39.400; T5. Cairo Leonard-Baker, Arizona State, Derrian Goburne, Auburn, 39.350.
Vault — T1. Ona Looper, Minnesota, Derrian Gobourne, Auburn, 9.95; T3. Ruby Harrold, LSU, McKayla Skinner, Utah, Drew Watson, Auburn, 9.90; T6. Lexy Ramler, Minnesota, Morgan Wilson, Arizona State, Gracie Day, Auburn, 9.875; T9. Sarah Finnegan, McKenna Kelley, Kennedi Edney, LSU, 9.85; T23. Julianna Cannamela, LSU, 9.825; T41. Sarah Edwards, LSU, 9.725.
Bars — 1. Cairo Leonard-Baker, Arizona State, 9.925; T2. Kennedi Edney, LSU, Sarah Finnegan, LSU, Taylor Krippner, Auburn, Abby Milliet, Auburn, Missy Reinstadtler, Minnesota, McKayla Skinner, Utah, Helody Cyrenne, BYU, Lexy Ramler, Minnesota, Ivy Lu, Minnesota, 9.90; T13. Sami Durante, Bailey Ferrer, LSU, 9.85; T19. Bridget Dean, LSU, 9.825; T25. Ruby Harrold, LSU, 9.80.
Beam — 1. Sarah Finnegan, LSU, 9.925; T2. Kennedi Edney, LSU, Abby Milliet, Auburn, Hailey Garner, Arkansas, 9.90; T5. Reagan Campbell, LSU, Meredith Sylvia, Auburn, 9.875; T7. Sami Durante, LSU; T27. Christina Desiderio, LSU, Bridget Dean, LSU, 9.775.
Floor — T1. McKenna Kelley, LSU, McKayla Skinner, Utah, 9.925; 3. Sophia Carter, Arkansas, 9.90; T4. Skyler Sheppard, Auburn, Shannon Evans, BYU, 9.875; T6. Ruby Harrold, Reagan Campbell, Sarah Edwards, LSU, Cairo Leonard-Baker, Arizona State, Sarah Shaffer, Amanda Elswick, Arkansas, Emma Slappey, Derrian Gobourne, Auburn, Abbey Miner, BYU, Macey Roberts, MaKenna Merrell-Giles, Utah, 9.85; T17. Kennedi Edney, LSU, 9.825.