FORT WORTH, Texas —LSU has never won an NCAA gymnastics title, but the Tigers know what it’s like to hold up the championship trophy.
That’s because they’ve practiced, in addition to working on their routines, putting their hands on a trophy similar to the one that will be awarded Saturday night to the winner of the Super Six finals at the NCAA championships.
LSU gave itself a chance to do that when the third-ranked Tigers scored a 197.3375 Friday to earn a Super Six berth for the third time in the past four seasons and the fifth time in program history.
“We’ve been doing that all year,” All-American Ashleigh Gnat said when asked whether she ever visualized holding the trophy. “It feels pretty good, but it’s not as good as the real thing.”
To do that, LSU will have to dethrone three-time defending champion and second-ranked Florida, which won Semifinal I with a score of 197.4750, followed by LSU and Georgia (196.7250).
Earlier this year, LSU defeated Florida in Gainesville but lost to the Gators at the Southeastern Conference championships. LSU split two meetings with No. 1 Oklahoma, one of three teams to come out of Semifinal II late Friday night. OU shared the national title with Florida in 2014.
Based on the earlier score, LSU coach D-D Breaux thinks her team can claim its first national title in the sport.
“It’s just another meet,” she said. “There are a lot of great teams, and we’re one of those teams. Our kids have to know that their gymnastics is good enough to measure up.
“What we did today won’t be good enough. We’ve got to be a little better, and this team knows that. It’s hard to get to Super Six but, once you’re in it, you’ve just got to relax and let it go with reckless abandon.”
Better than 2014?
We’ll know more late Saturday night, but Breaux said she believes this year’s team might be better equipped to win the title than her 2014 team that was third in the finals — the highest finish in program history.
“I think this team has more youthful enthusiasm,” she said. “This team is a little more focused and less intimidated. We have a few spots that might be intimidated, but this team gets after it and goes for the big scores.
“That’s what you need to win this: You can’t hold back. You have to let it all go.”
For the first time, the NCAA used six judges on each event at the national championships. In the past, four judges recorded scores for each routine and were averaged out. On Friday, the highest and lowest scores were discarded from the six judges and the remaining four scores were averaged.
“It was exactly what I expected,” Breaux said. “It wasn’t out of line even when we had high scores. If there was a score that went way high, there was another one that matched it.”
LSU’s competitors wore leotards Friday designed by sophomore Erin Macadaeg, who led off the Tigers’ all-important beam routine with a 9.875.
The stylish black leotards had gold stripes interspersed with purple stripes on the front of the uniform, which had the approval of Breaux after the meet.
“I like them as long as I don’t have to do it,” Breaux joked. “Erin is very creative, and she does a lot of artwork. I think she did a super job.”
In beating the other four teams in its semifinal session Friday, Breaux improved to 702-415-8 in 39 seasons. ... LSU will have the same rotation Saturday as it did for the SEC championships, NCAA Athens regional and the semifinals Friday. The Tigers will start with a bye, then go to bars and beam. After a second bye, they’ll finish on floor ex and vault. … The 49.300 posted by LSU on beam was the second-highest in school history at the national championships. The mark of 49.325 was set in 2014 in the Super Six finals in Birmingham, Alabama. … LSU previously qualified for the Super Six finals in 2008, 2009, 2013 and 2014.