There are issues for the LSU gymnastics program to deal with as it goes into its annual Gymnastics 101 exhibition meet Thursday night in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
Long-time assistant coach Bob Moore is sidelined with COVID-19. Because of coronavirus restrictions, the crowd will be limited to a few hundred family, friends and boosters.
But coach Jay Clark, who took over the solo job of LSU’s coach after the legendary D-D Breaux retired in August, is happy to be where the program is this December heath-wise compared to where it was a year ago.
“In a perfect year I’d like to have another week or two where we are,” Clark said Wednesday. “But compared to last season, we’re light years ahead.
“We are much more confident as a group. We’ve got some kids out due to illness or being quarantined. But outside of (sophomore) Kai Rivers, we don’t have any major issues injury-wise. Last year it was everything we could do to piece things together to start the season.”
Rivers suffered an offseason Achilles’ tendon tear, though Clark didn’t rule out the possibility that she could return toward the end of the 2021 regular season. LSU’s top returning gymnast is sophomore Kiya Johnson, an All-American and SEC Freshman of the Year in 2020.
It will be the first experience in the PMAC for LSU’s heralded class of five freshmen: Elena Arenas, Sierra Ballard, Chase Brock, Haleigh Bryant and Olivia Dunne.
Clark is most enthusiastic about where his class of six seniors are physically.
“Our entire senior class came back in great physical condition,” he said. “Christina Desiderio is ready to do floor at the beginning of the season. That hasn’t happened for two years.”
Sarah Edwards, who missed most of last season with a knee injury, “looks great,” Clark said. “She’s in the best condition since she’s been here.”
Senior Reagan Campbell, who projects to lead off on floor for LSU and anchor on beam, is out with an illness. Classmate Bridget Dean is battling a shoulder problem but could do beam and floor Thursday. And senior Sami Durante had a screw removed from a knee before Thanksgiving and is ready to go on uneven bars and beam.
Breaux, who retired in August after an SEC record 43 seasons as the Tigers’ coach, will also be on the floor narrating the action along with LSU gymnastics public address announcer Mike Smith.
Breaux, who is now in a fundraising/coach emeritus role, is planning a lot of activities during the meet.
“I call her the ‘atmosphere enhancer,’” Clark said with a grin. “She’s got door prizes and gift cards. She’s all into it. She even said she’s going to phone a friend during the meet.
“It’s not scripted, but scripting D-D wouldn’t mean anything anyway.”
The meet is set for 6:30 p.m. and will be streamed live online on SECNetwork+ via WatchESPN.com and the ESPN app.