For Sarah Edwards, it was all or nothing.
When she attended an LSU gymnastics camp the summer before her senior year of high school, she decided she was going to make it as a Tiger or stay at home in Mississippi and enroll at Ole Miss, which doesn’t have a gymnastics program.
“I always aspired to have a collegiate career,” Edwards said, “but if it didn’t work I was going to go to Ole Miss and retire after my senior year of high school.
“Fortunately, that didn’t happen.”
Fortunately for Edwards, and for the Tigers, she caught the eye of then LSU assistant coach Jay Clark.
“After camp Jay pulled me aside and asked me, ‘What’s your name? What are your grades? Are you smart?’ ” Edwards recalled with a laugh. “I said, ‘I have A's.’ He said, ‘OK, we’d love to have you on the team.’ ”
Edwards spent two years as a walk-on before being placed on scholarship going into her junior season, which was cut even shorter than the rest of the LSU season because of an ankle injury she suffered on floor exercise in Week 4 at Florida.
But Edwards has bounced back from that setback last season, and COVID-19 protocols that kept her out of LSU's Jan. 29 meet at Auburn, to become one of the Tigers’ most dependable performers on vault and floor. Her most recent gymnastics have been some of her best, posting scores of 9.90 or better in four of her past five routines.
“She’s been doing awesome this year,” said Sami Durante, Edwards’ roommate and LSU’s nominee for the AAI Award given annually to the nation’s top senior gymnast. “She put in the work this summer and got herself in a place to come back.
“I love watching her. She gives me so much confidence. I know she’s going to hit.”
The Tigers (4-2, 3-2 Southeastern Conference) need Edwards to hit her routines Friday night to help pull No. 2 LSU out of a two-meet losing streak and post a victory at No. 14 Kentucky (3-3, 3-2 SEC). The meet begins at 6 p.m. in Lexington and will be shown online only on the WatchESPN app and WatchESPN.com.
Whatever edge the LSU gymnastics team had against No. 1 Florida that carried it to a season-high score of 198.050 seemed to evaporate last wee…
LSU is in a position as a program where it takes few walk-ons, few gymnasts who prove to be projects. Edwards, who said she came up with only two other elite gymnasts in Mississippi, said she has worked on honing her gymnastics skills since arriving at LSU.
“I was a diamond in the rough when I came in,” Edwards said. “But like D-D (Breaux, LSU’s former coach) says, we’ve been polishing the rock.”
Clark said there was plenty of skill to work with when Edwards arrived. She proved to be a gifted athlete, one who competed as a hurdler on the Ocean Springs High School track team despite the fact that she’s just 4-foot-11. And though Edwards has an unusual choppy running style that she herself pokes fun at — “When we watch film, I crack up at my run. It’s hilarious.” — Edwards is the fastest gymnast on the team.
“When we go to football ops and do our conditioning run, she starts out a little funny,” Clark said. “But when she’s at a full sprint she smokes everybody.
“She was kind of an unknown commodity, but she came around pretty quick. She’s a ridiculous talent. If we had more time she might be able to do more events. But these are the ones that are the most natural physically for her.”
Edwards has other gifts beyond gymnastics. She plays the violin and is majoring in environmental engineering, a curriculum she picked to help her parents save on out-of-state tuition because it isn’t offered at any colleges in Mississippi. She plans on going to medical school when her gymnastics career is over.
The question is, when will it be over? Gymnastics is one of the sports in which the NCAA has allowed its competitors an extra year of eligibility because their 2020 seasons were cut short by the coronavirus pandemic.
Edwards, who has to cope with ankle issues from years of pounding landings in her sport, still doesn’t know whether she will return for a fifth season in 2022.
“I haven’t decided,” said Edwards, who turns 23 in December. “I’m working on getting the MCAT squared away and applying to med schools.”
Clark said Edwards and LSU’s five other seniors — Reagan Campbell, Bridget Dean, Christina Desiderio, Olivia Gunter and Durante — all have spots on next year’s team if they want them. Though he declined to be specific, Clark said he expects at least some of the six will come back for a fifth season.
“I’m on my knees begging them to come back,” he said. “I want them to come back. From a character and leadership perspective, what they’ve meant to this program since they got here is tremendous. It would be a lot of mouths to feed and a lot of gymnasts to keep happy, but I’ll take that problem all day long.”
Once again for Edwards, the choice facing her is retiring from gymnastics and moving on with another chapter of her life or to continue competing. One more year of polishing the rock, or setting it on the shelf for good.
Team SEC Pct. Overall Pct. Season Avg.
Florida 5-0 1.000 6-0 1.000 197.613
Alabama 4-1 .800 5-1 .833 196.842
LSU 3-2 .600 4-2 .667 197.325
Kentucky 3-2 .600 3-3 .500 196.350
Arkansas 2-3 .400 2-4 .333 196.854
Georgia 1-4 .200 2-4 .333 196.329
Auburn 1-4 .200 1-5 .167 196.013
Missouri 1-4 .200 1-5 .167 195.529
Last Friday’s results
Alabama 197.725, LSU 197.325
Arkansas 197.350, Missouri 196.850
Auburn 197.050, Georgia 196.150
Florida 197.500, Kentucky 196.875
LSU at Kentucky, 6 p.m. (SEC Network)
Alabama at Arkansas, 7 p.m. (SECNetwork+)
Georgia at Missouri, 7 p.m. (SECNetwork+)
Auburn at Florida, 7:30 p.m. (SEC Network)
March 5 schedule
Missouri at LSU, 7:30 p.m. (SECNetwork+)
Kentucky at Georgia, 6 p.m. (SEC Network alternate)
Arkansas at Auburn, 7 p.m. (SECNetwork+)
Florida at Alabama, 7:30 p.m. (SEC Network alternate)
END REGULAR SEASON
All times CST