It is a clear sign of how high the standards have risen for LSU gymnastics that the gymnasts and coach from the nation’s No. 5-ranked team were peppered with reporters’ questions this week about the slow start to their season.
The Tigers opened at home Jan. 4 with a 196.775-195.650 win over then-No. 8 California, then went on the road last Friday and stumbled to a 196.700-196.275 loss at No. 17 Auburn.
The first meet snapped LSU’s string of 39 straight meets with a score of 197 or higher. The second snapped LSU’s string of 17 straight Southeastern Conference dual meet victories, both of which stretched back to a February 2016 loss at Georgia.
The Tigers are desperate to keep two more very important streaks alive Friday night when they host No. 3 Florida at 8 p.m. in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center: their 39 straight home meet victories dating back to the start of the 2014 season and their run of two straight SEC regular-season championships. The chances for a third straight regular-season title likely ride on LSU’s showdown with the Gators.
“We covet it,” LSU coach D-D Breaux said of the SEC regular-season title, a championship she lobbied the conference for years to create. “It’s very important. We want to win. That’s why kids come to LSU — they want to win. They want to compete in one of the most upbeat, positive, competitive environments in the country right here in the PMAC.
“But there’s parity. There are good teams out there. We’ve strived for this and talked about this, I have, for 42 years. We want a lot of teams to be good. That’s what’s happening. Any team can win on any given night and Florida is always good.”
Florida (1-0, 1-0 SEC) posted the only plus-197 score of the young SEC season last Friday, beating Missouri 197.300-196.450 in Gainesville. The Gators were led by senior Alicia Boren, who earned SEC gymnast of the week honors with her 12th career all-around title coming on a score of 39.595.
Though LSU (1-1, 0-1) has yet to crack that 197 mark this season, senior Sarah Finnegan knows the Tigers have it in them from what they have shown in practice.
“Throughout the fall we do intersquads and score ourselves,” Finnegan said. “We know where we’re at and where we can be. It's a matter of bringing it all together on the floor when it really matters.”
The Tigers weren’t far from posting a strong score against Cal. But two of LSU’s six gymnasts fell on vault, forcing the Tigers to count one of them. A typical 9.85 score, of which virtually all of LSU’s gymnasts are capable, would have given the Tigers the nation’s second-best score in week one.
At Auburn, though, the story was different. LSU started strong on bars with a 49.350 but the Tigers appeared to go into shock when senior McKenna Kelley scratched after hurting her ankle warming up on floor routine.
LSU went into the final rotation tied with Auburn but wobbled to a 48.750 with no score better than a 9.825. Auburn finished strong on floor with a 49.175 to pull away.
“On balance beam the kids internalized the pressure,” Breaux said. “We had every opportunity to win that meet with a great beam routine and we didn’t.”
Kelley underwent an MRI on her left ankle Monday but was able to return to practice throughout the week. LSU plans to have her compete on vault and floor, though it remains to be seen how she reacts to the harder floor in the PMAC compared to LSU's practice gym.
The short-term prognosis isn’t as good for junior Ashlyn Kirby, who underwent arthroscopic knee surgery this week. The procedure was expected to keep her out of the LSU lineup at least 3-5 weeks.
“Not having her really does whack away at our depth in three events,” Breaux said.
Introductions are set for 7:40 p.m. with the meet set to begin at 8. Because a near capacity crowd is expected, LSU officials are advising fans to arrive to the PMAC early. The meet will be the last of a tripleheader on the SEC Network, following Arkansas at Kentucky at 5 p.m. and Alabama at Georgia at 6:30.
Finnegan said the Tigers are focused on improvement this week and drawing on a huge home crowd to propel them to their best effort of the season.
“It’s a tough SEC competition and we know they (the Gators) are going to bring it,” Finnegan said. “We’re going to use our home meet advantage and crush it on Friday.”
Team SEC Pct. Overall Pct. High
Auburn 1-0 1.000 2-0 1.000 196.700
Florida 1-0 1.000 1-0 1.000 197.300
Alabama 0-0 .000 5-1 .833 196.175
Kentucky 0-0 .000 2-2 .500 195.975
Arkansas 0-0 .000 1-1 .500 195.800
Georgia 0-0 .000 1-1 .500 196.600
LSU 0-1 .000 1-1 .500 196.775
Missouri 0-1 .000 3-1 .750 196.450
Auburn 196.700, LSU 196.275
Denver 196.275, Alabama 196.175, Michigan 196.025, Bowling Green 189.675
Florida 197.300, Missouri 196.450
Oklahoma 197.825, Georgia 195.300
Arkansas 195.800, Arizona 194.725
Oregon State 195.225, Illinois 195.175, Kentucky 195.100, Lindenwood 192.525
Florida at LSU, 8 p.m. (SEC Network)
Arkansas at Kentucky, 5 p.m. (SEC Network)
Alabama at Georgia, 6:30 p.m. (SEC Network)
Auburn at Missouri, 1 p.m.
Iowa State at Georgia, 1 p.m.
All times Central