They will drop new banners in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center on Friday night for LSU’s gymnastics season opener against Arizona.
One banner will chronicle the Tigers’ third NCAA runner-up finish in the past four seasons behind Oklahoma. Two other banners will commemorate two more NCAA individual titles won by Sarah Finnegan and Kennedi Edney.
Edney, a two-time NCAA vault champion, returns for 2020. But Finnegan, the 2019 AAI Award winner and a 23-time All-American, is gone, along with classmates McKenna Kelley, Lexie Priessman and Julianna Cannamela.
With them exiting the stage, it would be easy to describe the 2020 season as a transition year for LSU. But co-head coach D-D Breaux — who admitted she thoroughly enjoyed the Peach Bowl, in which Ed Orgeron's team hammered Oklahoma — isn’t giving in to lower expectations for her program.
“We just feel like we’ve got the foundation for a great team,” said Breaux, entering her 43rd season as LSU’s coach, an ongoing record for all Southeastern Conference coaches in any sport.
The reason for Breaux’s feisty optimism is peppered throughout LSU’s roster.
The Tigers, who were ranked No. 2 behind OU in the preseason Women’s Collegiate Gymnastics Association poll last month, have two seniors in Edney and Ruby Harrold, a 2016 Olympic gymnast for Great Britain.
“The expectation is always to build on the previous year,” Harrold said. “We’re always talking about being better than the day previous, the meet previous. Right now this week is a starting point.”
The roster is bookended by a freshman class that on paper is arguably as strong as the senior class that’s leaving.
Among the seven freshmen to watch are Kiya Johnson, who won the all-around in the 2018 Junior Olympics championships, 2017 Nastia Liukin Cup all-around champion Kai Rivers and two-time U.S. national team member Alyona Shchennikova.
While Breaux and new co-head coach Jay Clark — promoted in the offseason from a longtime role as Breaux's top assistant — were still tinkering with the lineup this week, Johnson is expected to join Edney as an all-arounder right from the first trip down the vault runway.
“Kiya Johnson will be the freshman who has that ‘wow’ factor,” Breaux said. “A lot of people saw her do four events at our 101 (exhibition in December). She’s steady and consistent and works at a very high level of difficulty, and she makes it look easy.”
Johnson added: “I’m really excited. This is what I came to LSU for. It feels like a really long preseason, so I’m excited to get going.”
Like several of LSU’s gymnasts, Shcennikova is coming off an injury, in her case an Achilles tendon. It will keep her off of most events for now, though she will perform on uneven bars with a routine that Breaux said was “as good as any collegiate bar routine in the country.”
Between Edney and Johnson as all-arounders and three events by Harrold (vault, bars and floor), LSU should have 11 of the necessary 20 routines covered. The other nine routines will need to be filled by freshmen and LSU’s large junior contingent: Reagan Campbell, Bridget Dean, Christina Desiderio, Sami Durante, Sarah Edwards and Olivia Gunter from Mandeville. Desiderio is one of LSU’s recuperating gymnasts, coming off of offseason shoulder surgery.
An increase in required start difficulty in collegiate gymnastics has resulted in some changes to the Tigers’ routines.
“I hope we don’t struggle with that on Friday,” Breaux said. “I anticipate it may be a little dip in quality of execution. But I feel it’s something we have to do if we’re going to be successful at the end of the season. It’s an issue every team is going to have to face.”
First events start at 7:15 p.m. in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. The meet will be shown online only on SECNetwork+ via WatchESPN.com and the WatchESPN app.
Ferrer likely out for 2020
Sophomore gymnast Bailey Ferrer announced on social media recently that she will not compete for LSU this season. Breaux confirmed that the Orlando, Florida, native will likely sit out this season, citing unspecified personal reasons.
Ferrer competed in 13 meets for LSU in 2019.
“You can’t predict when some of these young people have personal issues,” Breaux said. “I don’t expect her to compete this year, but I think she’ll be better because of the support the LSU family is giving her.”
Breaux said Ferrer’s absence will leave LSU “a little short on bars” in terms of depth, but “I just feel people are going to step up and get the job done.”
Kelley ends up at Arkansas
Turns out McKenna Kelley’s younger sister won’t be following her as an LSU gymnast after all.
Emma Kelley, youngest daughter of Olympic gymnastics legend Mary Lou Retton, recently switched her commitment to Arkansas. She will compete for the Razorbacks starting in 2021.
2020 LSU GYMNASTICS SCHEDULE
Date (Time) Opponent TV
Friday (7:15 p.m.) Arizona SECNetwork+
Jan. 10 (6:30 p.m.) at Georgia SEC Network
Jan. 17 (7:15 p.m.) Auburn SEC Network
Jan. 24 (6:30 p.m.) at Florida ESPN2
Jan. 31 (7:15 p.m.) Alabama SEC Network
Feb. 8 (1:30 p.m.) at Oregon State (with Arizona State)
Feb. 14 (6 p.m.) at Gymquarters Invitational
Feb. 16 (2:15 p.m.) Kentucky SEC Network+
Feb. 21 (7 p.m.) at Missouri SEC Network
Feb. 28 (7:15 p.m.) Arkansas SEC Network+
March 6 (7 p.m.) at Texas Woman’s
March 13 (7:15 p.m.) Arizona State SEC Network+
March 21 (TBD) SEC Championships SEC Network
April 3-4 (TBD) at NCAA regional TBD
April 17-18 (TBD) at NCAA Championships ESPN2/ABC
All times Central
2020 LSU GYMNASTICS ROSTER
Name Height Class
Kennedi Edney 5-3 Senior
Ruby Harrold 5-3 Senior
Reagan Campbell 5-1 Junior
Bridget Dean 5-2 Junior
Christina Desiderio 5-0 Junior
Sami Durante 5-1 Junior
Sarah Edwards 4-11 Junior
Olivia Gunter 5-2 Junior
Rebecca D’Antonio 5-0 Sophomore
Bailey Ferrer* 5-1 Sophomore
Courtney Goodrich 5-3 Freshman
Kiya Johnson 5-2 Freshman
Lexie Nibbs 5-3 Freshman
Kai Rivers 5-3 Freshman
Kamryn Ryan 5-2 Freshman
Alyona Shcennikova 5-5 Freshman
Caitlin Smith 5-2 Freshman
*-Will not compete this season