LSU’s gymnastics meet Sunday against Auburn will essentially be a victory lap for the Tigers.
That doesn’t mean they don’t really want the victory.
Florida, LSU’s nearest pursuer in the Southeastern Conference race, was upset at Missouri on Friday night, 196.925-196.700. That gift-wrapped a second straight SEC regular season title for LSU. The Tigers (12-1 overall) are 6-0 in the SEC while Florida and Alabama finished the SEC part of their schedules at 5-2.
While a repeat championship was LSU’s primary goal, there is also the allure of finishing unbeaten in SEC regular-season competition for the second straight year and third time in the past four. LSU has won 16 straight SEC regular-season meets and 28 of its past 29 since midway through the 2014 season.
“We have another meet left,” senior Myia Hambrick said, “so …”
So they want that unbeaten SEC regular season, a piece of mental intimidation the Tigers can hold over the other seven conference teams when they convene later this month in St. Louis for the SEC championship meet.
They want that title as well, for the SEC sweep just like they got in 2017. First, though for No. 3-ranked LSU, is this meet against No. 15 Auburn (6-7, 1-5 SEC) at 2:30 p.m. in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. The meet will be televised on the SEC Network.
An unblemished record, much less a repeat SEC title, seemed like a daunting prospect before LSU’s season began. The Tigers lost three key seniors, led by NCAA floor champion Ashleigh Gnat. In November, junior McKenna Kelley went down with a season-ending Achilles’ tendon injury.
Gradually, the pieces came together. Hambrick took Gnat’s place as anchor on floor and is No. 1 in the nation in that event. Junior Sarah Finnegan has climbed to No. 2 nationally in the all-around. Oft-injured junior Lexie Priessman has added floor and vault to her beam routine, and freshmen like Christina Desiderio, Sami Durante and Reagan Campbell have chipped in with key contributions.
“At the beginning of this year everyone was asking, ‘How do you think it’s going to go? You’re losing seniors and McKenna had her injury’ and all of that,” Hambrick said. “I was never for one second worried that we weren’t going to be able to do all the things we set our minds to. Mostly because this team is super-hard-working.”
Said Priessman: “At first we didn’t feel as strong as we did last year. I feel finally we’ve unleashed our potential completely.”
For years, decades really, the SEC didn’t keep regular-season standings in gymnastics or hand out a trophy. Thanks in part to the determined prodding of LSU coach D-D Breaux, that changed in 2017.
“It’s a basketball game,” Breaux said earlier this season. “It’s a boxing match. They take a hit, we take a hit, last man standing wins. That’s how it should be.”
Before it even takes the mat Sunday, LSU is already the last one standing.
But that doesn’t mean the Tigers are ready to say that’s enough.