Sami Durante has personified the problems and the promise of the LSU gymnastics team this season.
She fell warming up on uneven bars Feb. 1 before LSU’s meet against North Carolina State, suffering a concussion that kept the sophomore out of that meet and the next week’s loss at Kentucky.
But the sophomore was back on bars Friday, posting a 9.85 in LSU’s win over Utah, Missouri and Stanford in the GymQuarters Mardi Gras Invitaitonal in St. Charles, Missouri. Sunday at home again against Mizzou, Durante posted another solid 9.85 on bars and shared first place on balance beam with teammate Sarah Finnegan, both scoring 9.90s.
Durante’s return appeared to be a good omen for the fifth-ranked Tigers, who shook off fatigue from Friday night’s meet to post a season-high score Sunday in a 197.650-195.475 victory before a paid crowd of 11,047 in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
“It’s awesome,” Durante said after a lengthy post-meet autograph session on the PMAC concourse with her teammates. “I love competing.
“It took a few days. That first week (after her concussion) I really don’t remember a thing. When I started training again it was hard to get back in, but now I’m good. I feel like I’m back to the way I was before.”
The entire LSU team looked like it did before, before this season marked by a surprising number of losses and sub-197 scores, the minimum standard total for a program to consider itself a national contender.
Sunday’s performance, coming off a solid 197.250 in the GymQuarters, has Finnegan believing the Tigers (7-3, 2-3 Southeastern Conference) have turned a corner on their season.
“We talked about building from Friday, taking the momentum we had and putting it in the PMAC,” Finnegan said. “Us being able able to do what we did Friday and carry it into Sunday, I was really proud. That’s what we need. We need to continue to build our confidence and momentum and fix little things here and there. Now we’re really starting to see that.”
It was a typically stellar meet for Finnegan. In addition to the bars title she shared with Durante, the reigning SEC gymnast of the year won the all-around with a 39.575. She also shared the floor title with teammates McKenna Kelley and Kennedi Edney, all three posting 9.95s, and tied for first on bars with junior Ruby Harrold and freshman Bailey Ferrer at 9.90.
The win was Ferrer’s first collegiate title, leaving her a mere 70 behind Finnegan, who also won four events Friday. Finnegan is now just three wins behind former two-time NCAA champion Susan Jackson (74 wins) for fifth place in program history.
Kelley also won her first collegiate vault title with a career high 9.925.
Getting her team to push through the fatigue of two meets in three days was important to LSU coach D-D Breaux. The weekend simulated what the Tigers would face when they compete on back-to-back days in NCAA regional and NCAA championship weekends.
“To be able to go on the road and have a great meet on the podium and come home and have this great crowd and all the enthusiasm our LSU family brings us was very, very gratifying,” Breaux said. “The kids were tired. But they fought through that, and all of a sudden the momentum and enthusiasm took over. We saw a great performance with a great score.”
The news wasn’t all good for LSU, however. The Tigers were without senior Lexi Priessman for both meets this weekend as she needed injections in her elbow and shoulder after injuring herself in a fall on bars at Kentucky.
Breaux said she would likely hold Priessman out again this Friday when LSU travels to face Arkansas (7:30 p.m., SEC Network) but hopes to have her back for LSU’s next home meet March 1 against Georgia.
“We need her to be the best team we can be,” Breaux said. “We probably have a 197.800 today if she’s on bars.”
1. #5 LSU 197.650 (Vault — 49.350, Bars — 49.425, Beam — 49.325, Floor — 49.550)
2. #15 Missouri 195.475 (Vault — 48.450, Bars — 48.900, Beam — 48.900, Floor — 49.225)
Individual (includes first place and all LSU competitors)
All-Around — 1. Sarah Finnegan, LSU, 39.575; 2. Kennedi Edney, LSU, 39.375.
Vault — 1. McKenna Kelley, LSU, 9.925; T2. Sarah Edwards, Kennedi Edney, LSU, 9.90; 4. Sarah Finnegan, LSU, 9.825; T5. Ruby Harrold, Julianna Cannamela, LSU, 9.80.
Bars — T1. Ruby Harrold, Sarah Finnegan, Bailey Ferrer, LSU, 9.90; T4. Kennedi Edney, LSU, 9.875; 6. Sami Durante, LSU, 9.85; 9. Bridget Dean, LSU, 9.80.
Beam — T1. Sarah Finnegan, Sami Durante, LSU, 9.90; T4. Christina Desiderio, Bridget Dean, LSU, 9.85; 7. Reagan Campbell, LSU, 9.825; T10. Kennedi Edney, LSU, 9.65.
Floor — T1. Kennedi Edney, Sarah Finnegan, McKenna Kelley, LSU, 9.95; T5. Reagan Campbell, Christina Desiderio, Ruby Harrold, LSU, 9.85.