If the LSU gymnastics team had a message coming out of Friday’s meet at Auburn, it was this:
Bring on Florida.
Riding a pair of impressive all-around performances from freshman Haleigh Bryant and sophomore Alyona Shchennikova, No. 2-ranked LSU posted the second-best score in the nation this season in a 197.550-197.075 win at No. 22 Auburn.
The performance sends LSU (4-0, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) on a wave of momentum into next Friday’s home meet showdown with No. 1 Florida (4-0, 3-0). The meet is set for 6:15 p.m. in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center and will be televised on the SEC Network.
“I am so proud of the fight tonight from the entire team,” LSU coach Jay Clark said. “We had some new faces in our lineups and they all delivered. Their confidence is growing and they know what it takes. We haven’t even put together a full meet yet, so the future is bright.”
LSU gymnasts posted or tied 10 season- or career-high scores, led by Shchennikova. The sophomore shared first place on vault with a 9.90 and was a late edition to the all-around competition, just finishing behind LSU freshman Haleigh Bryant 39.550-39.525.
Shchennikova wasn’t going to do all four events, but replace sophomore Kiya Johnson on balance beam and posted a 9.875. She also had a career-high 9.925 on floor and had a 9.825 on uneven bars.
“Alyona went in at the last minute and handled it perfectly,” Clark said. “It demonstrates the depth we have. We have kids who aren’t getting an opportunity who can go.”
The only real negative of the night for LSU concerned Johnson, who jammed her ankle on her landing on vault. LSU’s coaches planned for Johnson to do three events at Auburn — she ended up doing only bars when she scored a 9.90 and got a 9.70 on vault — with a goal of getting her and her troublesome Achilles’ tendon back as an all-arounder against Florida.
“We’ll have to see what we’re dealing with next week,” Clark said, “but we don’t think it’s too serious.”
Bryant, who won her third straight all-around title, and fellow freshman Elena Arenas shared the top of the podium on vault with Shchennikova and Auburn’s Derrian Gobourne. LSU senior Sami Durante won her second straight bars title with a 9.95, tying her career high, leading her team to a 49.475 that was the nation’s second-best score in that event this season.
Despite LSU’s strong performance, Auburn pushed the higher-ranked Tigers hard through the first three events. Auburn posted a 49.450 on bars to trail LSU only 98.675-98.600 midway through the meet. Going into the final rotation, LSU only led 148.125-147.875.
But then Auburn finally faltered, with its first two gymnasts going out of bounds on floor leading to a 49.200. Meanwhile, LSU posted a strong 49.425 on beam to pull away for the final margin.
“People looked at the rankings, even the ESPN talent, and said we were a big favorite,” Clark said. “I said, ‘Don’t kid yourself.’ They’ve had COVID issues, too. They got back some of their better kids tonight. I think they’re a top-10 team.”
The meet was postponed from last week because of contact tracing issues within the LSU team.
As the LSU team boarded its chartered coaches for the ride home to Baton Rouge, the Tigers could finally put their full focus on the Florida meet.
“You don’t get one-versus-two very often,” Clark said. “Hopefully it’s amazing for our fans who can come. Those who can’t can scream at the TV. It’s going to be a great atmosphere.”
1. #2 LSU 197.550 (Vault — 49.200, Bars — 49.475, Beam — 49.425, Floor — 49.450
2. #22 Auburn 196.375 (Vault — 49.150, Bars — 49.450, Beam — 49.275, Floor — 49.200)
Individual (includes first place and all LSU competitors)
All-around – 1. Haleigh Bryant, LSU, 39.550; 2. Alyona Shchennikova, LSU, 39.525; 3. Cassie Stevens, Auburn, 39.425; 4. Piper Smith, Auburn, 38.700
Vault – T1. Haleigh Bryant, Alyona Shchennikova, Elena Arenas, LSU, Derrian Gobourne, Auburn, 9.90; T6. Chase Brock, LSU, 9.80; 11. Kiya Johnson, LSU, 9.70; 12. Kamryn Ryan, LSU, 9.325.
Bars – 1. Sami Durante, LSU, 9.95; T2. Olivia Dunne, LSU, 9.925; T4. Kiya Johnson, LSU, 9.90; T7. Chase Brock, LSU, 9.875; T10. Haleigh Bryant, Alyona Shchennikova, LSU, 9.825.
Beam – 1. Gabby McLaughlin, Auburn, 9.925; T2. Christina Desiderio, Haleigh Bryant, LSU, 9.90; T5. Bridget Dean, Alyona Shchennikova, Reagan Campbell, LSU, 9.875; T8. Sami Durante, LSU, 9.85.
Floor – 1. Derrian Gobourne, Auburn, 9.975; T2. Alyona Shchennikova, Haleigh Bryant, LSU, 9.925; T4. Reagan Campbell, LSU, 9.90; 7. Elena Arenas, LSU, 9.875; 8. Sierra Ballard, LSU, 9.825; 9. Bridget Dean, LSU, 9.80.