Bookended perfection put an emphatic end to three weeks of frustrating results for the LSU gymnastics team Friday night.
Freshman Haleigh Bryant opened with a perfect 10 in the anchor spot on vault and sophomore Kiya Johnson ended the night with a perfect 10 in the final routine on floor, leading No. 3-ranked LSU to an easy 197.875-196.175 win over No. 22 Missouri in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
It was Bryant’s first collegiate 10.0 score. It is Johnson’s second this season on floor and the fourth perfect score of her LSU career.
Did her routine feel like a 10 to Bryant?
“I think so, honestly,” she said. “It’s the first time I really stuck this vault. Jay (Clark, LSU’s coach) said absorb the landing and don’t try to salute too fast.”
The victory for LSU (5-3, 4-3 Southeastern Conference) snapped a three-meet losing streak that had seen the Tigers post successively lower scores. But they bounced back in the regular-season finale with their second-highest score of the season behind only the 198.050 they posted in a loss to No. 1 Florida last month. It was also the highest score in the SEC this week.
That disappointing loss to Florida started LSU on a skid that took the Tigers out of contention for the SEC regular-season title. But season averages are what count most in gymnastics, and Friday’s score locked up the No. 2 seed for LSU in the SEC Championships on March 20 in Huntsville, Alabama.
Johnson said the Tigers can do even better.
“We did have those losses and it stung a little bit,” she said. “But it motivated us to get back in the gym and work even harder.
“No one has seen our best yet. We’re coming.”
Clark said going into the meet that he would put his best lineup out there. That didn’t include senior Reagan Campbell, who usually anchors LSU on beam but has been hampered by injuries and missed out on qualifying this week. It did, however, include three all-arounders in the lineup for the first time: Johnson, Bryant and sophomore Alyona Shchennikova.
“I think in a lot of places that was our best lineup,” Clark said. “We were without our best beam worker, Reagan. That was one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever had to make to take her out on senior day. I anticipate Reagan will get back.”
It was the first time Johnson, LSU’s best gymnast in 2020, performed as an all-arounder since Jan. 15 at Arkansas. LSU’s coaches held her to one, two or three events for five straight meets to protect a troublesome Achilles tendon for the postseason that is now straight ahead.
“I feel it was the best decision for my body,” Johnson said. “I want to go every time, but I feel good now. Hopefully it holds out through nationals.”
The NCAA championships are April 16-17 in Fort Worth, Texas.
On Friday, all three all-arounders provided LSU with highlights. Along with Bryant’s 10.0 vault, Johnson tied her season high on vault with a 9.95 and Bryant set a season high as she shared top all-around honors with Johnson (39.625). Shchennikova shared the top of the podium on uneven bars with senior Sami Durante, both posting 9.90s.
Senior Christina Desiderio tied her career high on balance beam with a 9.95 (Missouri’s Sienna Schreiber won the event with a 9.975), edging out fellow senior Bridget Dean’s 9.925. Johnson’s 10 on floor gave LSU a 49.650, the Tigers’ highest score in any event this season.
Friday may have marked the final home meet for five of LSU’s six seniors: Durante, Desiderio, Dean, Campbell and Sarah Edwards all say they are considering a return in 2022 for the extra season granted spring-sports athletes by the NCAA. Senior Olivia Gunter from Mandeville, who ended the night with an exhibition floor routine, said she will not return.
1. #2 LSU 197.875 (Vault — 49.550, Bars — 49.250, Beam — 49.425, Floor — 49.650)
2. #22 Missouri 196.175 (Vault — 48.950, Bars — 48.700, Beam — 49.425, Floor — 49.100)
Individual (includes first place and all LSU competitors)
All-around – T1. Haleigh Bryant, Kiya Johnson, LSU, 39.625; 3. Alyona Shchennikova, LSU, 39.350; 4. Amaya Marshall, Missouri, 39.300; 5. Sienna Schreiber, Missouri, 38.725.
Vault – 1. Haleigh Bryant, LSU, 10.0; 2. Kiya Johnson, LSU, 9.95; 3. Sarah Edwards, LSU, 9.90; 4. Elena Arenas, LSU, 9.875; 5. Sami Durante, LSU, 9.825; 11. Alyona Shchennikova, LSU, 9.75.
Bars – T1. Alyona Shchennikova, Sami Durante, LSU, 9.90; 3. Kiya Johnson, LSU, 9.85; 4. Haleigh Bryant, LSU, 9.825; T5. Olivia Dunne, LSU, 9.775; 11. Chase Brock, LSU, 9.25.
Beam – 1. Sienna Schreiber, Missouri, 9.975; 2. Christina Desiderio, LSU, 9.95; 3. Bridget Dean, LSU, 9.925; T6. Sami Durante, LSU, 9.875; 8. Haleigh Bryant, LSU, 9.85; T9. Kiya Johnson, Alyona Shchennikova, LSU, 9.825.
Floor – 1. Kiya Johnson, LSU, 10.0; 2. Haleigh Bryant, LSU, 9.95; 3. Sierra Ballard, LSU, 9.925; 4. Sarah Edwards, LSU, 9.90; T5. Alyona Shchennikova, LSU, 9.875; T7. Christina Desiderio, LSU, 9.85.