Opening night to the 2020 season Friday was one of bumpy beginnings for the LSU gymnastics team.
But out of the uneven, sometimes raw performances, a star was born in Tigers freshman Kiya Johnson.
The headliner of LSU’s incoming class, Johnson bookended her debut collegiate meet with individual wins on vault (9.90) and floor. The latter was a dazzling floor routine that drew a 9.95 from the judges and a standing ovation from the crowd of 10,006 in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center to help cap a 195.725-195.025 win over Arizona.
“A bright spot,” LSU co-head coach D-D Breaux said of Johnson. “There’s places where she can get better, but she was absolutely the complete package.”
Johnson, competing as one of LSU's two all-arounders along with senior Kennedi Edney, also had a 9.80 on uneven bars and had to count a fall on balance beam resulting in a 9.35. But overall it was a strong start for the Dallas native, the 2018 Junior Olympics all-around champion.
“I’m really excited,” Johnson said. “I didn’t expect to be perfect, but everyone had a good time.”
With freshman occupying eight of the 24 routines in the LSU lineup, the Tigers had to count several rough routines in their scores against the visiting Wildcats. LSU got the win but snapped a streak of 11 straight scores of 197 or higher from last season, the benchmark for a high-quality score by collegiate gymnastics standards.
It wasn’t the start expected from a team ranked No. 2 in the preseason Women’s Collegiate Gymnastics Association poll, but it wasn’t dissimilar to the start LSU got off to in its 2019 season opener. Last year the Tigers struggled that night to a 196.775-195.650 victory over California and would go on to record two more scores in the 196 range before rallying strongly to win a third straight SEC Championship meet title and finish second for the third time in four seasons in the NCAA Championships.
“The first meet is a baseline,” said senior Ruby Harrold, who took second on uneven bars with a 9.875 behind a 9.90 from Arizona All-American Christina Berg, the Wildcats’ only victory of the night. “This is where we start our journey. The only way to go is up.”
LSU’s Reagan Campbell rescued an otherwise shaky beam routine — the Tigers had to count a fall as both Johnson and Sami Durante failed to stay on — with a winning score of 9.925. Edwards also posted a 9.90 on floor to finish second behind Johnson.
“It was too early to have a meet,” said Breaux, who explained she wanted her team to compete this early so LSU could have six home meets on its schedule. “This is only our third time on floor after being for 10 days. We’ll get better from here.”
The Tigers dropped banners before Friday’s meet to commemorate its two NCAA individual champions from last season — Edney on vault for the second time and former All-American Sarah Finnegan on bars — its 31st NCAA appearance, its SEC Championship title and its NCAA runner-up finish.
“It was so much fun,” Edwards said of the meet. “As a junior, I was able to look around and see the fans cheering. For these freshmen to experience that was so cool.”
LSU goes on the road next to open Southeastern Conference play next Friday at Georgia. The meet is set to begin at 6:30 p.m. on the SEC Network. The Tigers’ next home meet is Jan. 17 against Auburn.
They will drop new banners in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center on Friday night for LSU’s gymnastics season opener against Arizona.
1. #2 LSU 195.725 (Vault — 49.100, Bars — 48.800, Beam — 48.550, Floor — 49.275)
2. Arizona 195.025 (Vault — 48.475, Bars — 48.800, Beam — 48.625, Floor — 49.125)
Individual (includes first place and all LSU competitors)
All-around — 1. Kennedi Edney, LSU, 39.350; 2. Kiya Johnson, LSU, 39.000.
Vault — 1. Kiya Johnson, LSU, 9.90; 2. Sarah Edwards, LSU, 9.85; 3. Kennedi Edney, LSU, 9.80; T4. Kai Rivers, Ruby Harrold, LSU, 9.775; T7. Lexie Nibbs, LSU, 9.70.
Bars — 1. Christina Berg, UA, 9.90; 2. Ruby Harrold, LSU, 9.875; 3. Kennedi Edney, LSU, 9.825; T4. Sami Durante, Kiya Johnson, LSU, 9.80; 10. Kai Rivers, LSU, 9.50; 11. Alyona Shchennikova, LSU, 8.875.
Beam — 1. Reagan Campbell, LSU, 9.925; 2. Kennedi Edney, LSU, 9.90; 5. Christina Desiderio, LSU, 9.775; 8. Bridget Dean, LSU, 9.60; T10. Sami Durante, Kiya Johnson, LSU, 9.35.
Floor — 1. Kiya Johnson, LSU, 9.95; 2. Sarah Edwards, LSU, 9.90; T4. Ruby Harrold, LSU, 9.85; T6. Kennedi Edney, LSU, 9.825; 10. Reagan Campbell, LSU, 9.75; 12. Olivia Gunter, LSU, 9.625.