According to LSU gymnastics coach D-D Breaux, there’s a big difference in her first two teams that qualified for the Super Six finals at the NCAA Championships in 2008 and ’09 and this year’s squad.
For this LSU team, she said, confidence is key.
When Breaux’s teams in the past struggled mightily to get over the hump and make it past the semifinals, it was because they believed it would take an upset to take that final step and compete for a top national finish.
But when fifth-ranked LSU competes in the semifinals at 2 p.m. Friday in Los Angeles, it will be a different Tigers team.
LSU (20-6) will take on No. 1 Florida, No. 4 Georgia, No. 8 Minnesota, No. 9 Stanford and No. 16 Illinois in Semifinal I at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion.
The top three teams earn spots in Saturday’s Super Six to compete against the top three finishers from Semifinal II, which features No. 2 seed Oklahoma, No. 3 Alabama, No. 6 UCLA, No. 7 Michigan, No. 10 Utah and No. 11 Arkansas.
“It feels a lot different this time. … It feels like we expect to be there, because we know we’re good enough to be there,” Breaux said. “We have a proven record this year. All those other years, we believed it was going to be an upset for us to get in.
“I think this year, the team and the coaching staff expect to be there
“I would be very disappointed if we don’t make it.”
Make no mistake, Breaux has experienced more than enough disappointment at the NCAA Championships. Year after year, the Tigers got within a step of making it and fell back — until they qualified for the Super Six two years in a row in 2008 and ’09.
“We put some pressure on ourselves in the past, because we wanted that upset,” Breaux said. “We wanted so bad to get there for the first time. Now that we’ve been there, we understand the process.
“This group is much more self-confident, and they’re much more self-reliant,” she said. “There’s a lot more team camaraderie with kids pulling for each other and supporting each other. That comes with success and the team learning how to win and carrying things from the gym to the competitions.”
Breaux believes her team is more well-rounded than in the past, when an unfortunate slipup on the balance beam or uneven bars usually spelled disaster for the Tigers.
In the season’s final event rankings, LSU led the nation in vault and was fifth in floor exercise. They were also 11th on bars and 12th on beam going into the NCAA Regional in Columbus, Ohio, which the Tigers won.
That, along with a strong lineup of all-arounders in Rheagan Courville, Kaleigh Dickson and Jessie Jordan and specialists like Sarie Morrison and Lloimincia Hall have the Tigers thinking big after four years away from the Super Six.
Courville, who is ranked seventh in the nation in the all-around, is fifth on vault and 11th on beam. Hall tops the nation in floor exercise and Morrison is ranked eighth on bars going to nationals.
“I think our lineup is more well-rounded this year, and I think we’re more prepared,” said Breaux. “(Associate coach) Jay (Clark) has changed the culture, primarily on bars. We just have competed with a lot more confidence this year.
“We’ve stepped up and done the things in the gym that make you compete better in the arena, and that’s what we’re relying on for nationals.”