COLUMBIA, Mo. — The spotlight wasn’t shining on LSU junior Sarah Finnegan as her name thundered from the Hearnes Center’s public-address system before the third-ranked Tigers’ road meet against No. 24 Missouri.
That didn’t stop the crowd, filled with too many friends and family members for Finnegan to count, from giving the No. 6 all-around gymnast in the country a warm welcome back to her home state — to a gym she remembers sitting in when she was younger and watching her sister Hannah Finnegan compete for the Tigers in black and gold.
One of the many purple-clad fans in attendance raised a yellow flag with “LSU” written in purple letters as the junior from Lee’s Summit, Missouri, was was introduced. One of Finnegan’s old high school friends held up a sign that read, “Give Finney a 10!” throughout Friday’s meet, which ended in a 197.150-196.375 LSU victory.
With the win, LSU (7-1, 5-0 SEC) has posted a score of 197 or better in 29 consecutive meets dating to 2014.
Finnegan, who placed second in all-around with a score of 39.600, stole the spotlight during the third and fourth rotations. The junior posted a new career high in the floor, 9.975, and gave the Tigers a much-needed 9.900 on the beam after freshman Regan Campbell and sophomore Kennedi Edney both fell during their routine and placed 11th and 12th, respectively, in the event.
As an instrumental of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin" played for Missouri senior Finnegan's floor routine, Finnegan began to move elegantly across the beam. Then, in the middle of her routine, the Hearnes Center crowd erupted with applause as the judges revealed Harris’ 9.950 score.
In a familiar venue, Finnegan wasn’t fazed.
“Our coaches always tell us, ‘Tunnel vision; keep your blinders on; don’t let any outside distractions affect you,” Finnegan said.
It didn’t hurt that she had already posted her career-best, event-winning routine in the floor, tying senior teammate Myia Hambrick for first overall.
Hambrick, who posted a career-best all-around score of 39.700 in LSU's win against Kentucky on Feb. 2, added to her highlight reel with a season-best 9.950 on the vault during the second rotation. The senior won the individual all-around title Friday with a score of 39.625.
Although Hambrick and Finnegan topped all other all-around competition, Edney matched a career-high floor score with her 9.925 and the Tigers will leave Columbia with yet another conference win under their belts, coach D-D Breaux held her squad to a higher standard. Missouri (1-4, 1-4 SEC) posted its best overall team score of the season and gave LSU a run for its money behind Harris’ strong floor performance, a 9.925 from junior Allison Bower on the floor and 9.825 beam scores from juniors Britney Ward and Brooke Kelly and freshman Gabrielle Gottula.
Friday night also marked the first time since Jan. 30, 2016, that LSU scored less than a 49 on any event; they recorded a 48.775 on the beams.
Breaux was blunt and to the point in her postgame comments: “This is not going to win a championship.”
The 41st-year coach has been taking a trial-by-fire approach to create more depth in her lineup.
Freshman Christina Cesiderio replaced Lexie Priessman on the floor even though Priessman scored a 9.875 against Kentucky. Tonight marked Desiderio’s second time on the floor all season.
Ashlyn Kirby made only her second appearance on the bars, while Reagan Campbell made just her fifth appearance on the bars.
“We have to create consistency, because consistency wins the big ones,” Breaux said. “They went to vault tonight and blasted it and did a great job and then rocked floor right after. We just have to take the momentum and use it to our advantage. It’s going to be a quick turnaround for next weekend, and it will be a new opportunity to get better.”
LSU travels back to the Show-Me State for next Friday's Mardi Gras Invitational (6:30 p.m., FloGymnastics) at The Family Arena in St. Charles, Missouri, against Mizzou, No. 10 Arkansas and No. 21 George Washington. The Tigers will return the Maravich Center on Feb. 18 to face Texas Woman’s University (2:30 p.m., SEC Network+).