It has been a season in which it seems virtually everything has gone wrong for the LSU gymnastics team.
Injuries, attrition, stumbles and falls have left more of an impression than graceful, flowing routines and stuck landings. LSU has posted its two worst scores since 2016 and lost as many Southeastern Conference dual meets (three) as the previous five seasons combined.
Even venerable and always vocal coach D-D Breaux has been bothered by a bout of laryngitis, forcing her to send associate head coach Jay Clark out to deal with the media at gymnastics’ regular Monday news conference.
Clark acknowledged that there have been problems but overall was the voice of optimism, not concern, as the still No. 5-ranked Tigers head into the most physically demanding weekend of the regular season.
“It’s important that everybody knows the sky’s not falling just because we have a couple of bad outings and lose to some pretty good teams,” Clark said.
“We believe this is a team that is capable of contending for the national title. This is not a team that is a fall off from the teams we’ve had the last three or four years. From a personnel standpoint we’re a very good team. Our depth has been tested, but we’re going to get some of those injuries back the next week or so. We just have to set our jaw a little bit. I feel good about this team and what the potential is for the rest of the year and into the postseason.”
LSU is in St. Charles, Missouri, Friday to face Utah, Missouri and Stanford in the GymQuarters Mardi Gras Invitational at 6:30 p.m. LSU will then scramble home to host Missouri at 2 p.m. Sunday in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. Neither meet will be televised, but the LSU-Mizzou meet is available online via SECNetwork+.
LSU (3-3 overall, 1-3 SEC) hit what it hopes was a low point last week at Kentucky. The Tigers were outscored by the Wildcats in all four routines including uneven bars, typically LSU’s strength. Three gymnasts — Ruby Harrold, Kennedi Edney and anchor McKenna Kelley — stepped out of bounds during their floor routines.
Clark insisted LSU’s issues have more to do with mental approach and confidence than a lack of talent.
“We see consistency in the gym,” he said. “We don’t see things that alarm us in practice. “I’m a fan of this team. This is a great team. What people have to realize is getting to the postseason and being successful can look a hundred different ways. Particularly in our sport when wins and losses really don’t add up to a whole lot. We’ve run through a season where we beat everybody three or four years in a row and that becomes the expectation. But I’ve also seen a UCLA team that won two regular-season meets and went on to win a national title.
“Now, I certainly don’t want to take that path. Because wins and losses matter to your fan base — and to us. But at the same time we don’t want to knee jerk react like there’s some emergency because we’ve lost a couple of meets in the toughest conference in the country. We believe in what we’re doing and that we’re going to be fine.”
LSU sets up a hectic weekend like this one every year to help mimic what the team will face in the NCAA championships. Regionals, one of which LSU will be hosting, are two- or three-day affairs. The NCAA championship meet is also contested over two days.
This will also be a podium meet, with the apparatus raised off the floor, further copying what the Tigers will see in April.
“It’s definitely more forgiving on your body,” Kelley said. “It’s a lot bouncier, it absorbs your landing more than having the floor on top of a basketball court. So we’re looking forward to having those softer, more comfortable landings.”
Friday’s meet just outside St. Louis marks the final competition for Finnegan, a senior, in her childhood hometown. Finnegan has been the Tigers’ rock this season, ranking in the top-10 nationally in the all-around and on floor, balance beam and bars.
“It’s always great going back to Missouri and St. Louis since I grew up there,” said Finnegan, who won the SEC all-around title in St. Louis last March. “My family unfortunately will not be able to go because it’s my younger sister’s senior night. But I will have a lot of aunts and cousins and old friends there so it will be great to see them.”
LSU is hopeful that it will get sophomore Sami Durante back in the lineup for one of this weekend’s meets, probably at home against Missouri. Durante suffered a concussion in a fall warming up on bars Feb. 1 against North Carolina State.
Team SEC Pct. Overall Pct. Avg.
Florida 4-0 1.000 4-1 .800 197.670
Auburn 4-1 .800 5-1 .833 196.158
Alabama 3-1 .750 8-2 .800 196.371
Georgia 2-2 .500 4-3 .571 196.564
Kentucky 2-2 .500 4-4 .5009 196.025
LSU 1-3 .250 3-3 .500 196.850
Missouri 1-4 .200 4-6 .400 195.921
Arkansas 0-4 .000 1-7 .125 195.500
Kentucky 197.150, LSU 196.025
Florida 197.850, Auburn 196.700
Alabama 196.700, Arkansas 195.800
Georgia 196.300, Missouri 195.900
GymQuarters Mardi Gras Invitational — LSU, Utah, Missouri, Stanford, 6:30 p.m.#
Kentucky at Georgia, 6 p.m. (SEC Network)
Arkansas at Auburn, 7 p.m.
Florida at Alabama, 7:30 p.m. (SEC Network)
Missouri at LSU, 2 p.m.
#-at St. Charles, Missouri
All times Central