LSU gymnastics coach D-D Breaux came into the post-meet news conference Friday ready to channel her inner Will Wade.
Breaux was happy for the 197.150-195.375 win over North Carolina State, but like LSU’s basketball coach she's unhappy about the route her Tigers took to get there.
“I feel like Will Wade,” Breaux said. “You win, but it wasn’t great.”
Breaux was particularly miffed about her Tigers’ breakdowns in their final two rotations on balance beam and floor after a strong start on vault (49.325) and uneven bars (49.500). Out of LSU’s 12 scores in their final two events, five were below 9.80, an unbecoming set of results for the nation’s No. 5-ranked team fighting to be considered a championship contender.
“Our score was a pretty decent score,” Breaux said, “but it was the momentum we lost. We hit good beam routines and then we had mental breaks throughout.
“We have got to be better that. We have to be an emotionally tougher team than that.”
Even LSU’s top gymnast Sarah Finnegan, who captured three individual titles including her fifth all-around title in as many meets, had her knees buckle a bit on the last pass of her floor routine. That led to a score of 9.875 and opened the door for teammate McKenna Kelley, a fellow senior who charged through to win on floor with the evening’s highest score, a 9.975 that brought the Pete Maravich Assembly Center crowd of 11,515 to its feet.
“It just felt normal,” Kelley said of her floor routine, a reference to missing all of the 2018 season with an Achilles’ tendon tear and being scratched from a meet at Auburn with an ankle problem on floor.
“Her preparation this week was excellent,” Breaux said of Kelley. “When you have preparation and commitment, consistency wins.”
The overall consistency Breaux was seeking was again overwhelmed by chaos.
Sophomore Sami Durante fell during pre-meet warmups and was pulled from the lineup on bars and beam because a team doctor was concerned she may have suffered a concussion. That juggled LSU’s lineup on both events, with Kelley going in on beam for the first time in her collegiate career.
The result: a decent routine with a major wobble in the middle that was eventually scored a 9.575 after initially being judged a 9.675 on the floor.
“I’ve been the alternate from the preseason (on beam),” Kelley said. “I think of it as doing my job for my team. I was warming up and said, ‘It feels so cool to be with the beam girls!’ These are All-Americans.”
One All-American in particular, Finnegan, again took center stage.
After opening with a 9.875 on vault — an ankle problem restricted Finnegan to a 9.95 start value on that event instead of a full 10.0 — she anchored LSU’s bars and beam routines with consecutive 9.95 scores. Her 9.875 on floor left her with an all-around score of 39.650, giving her 61 individual titles for her career.
“We always joke that Sarah is the most average person because she’s just so phenomenal in everything she does,” junior Ruby Harrold. “She brings that level of sincerity and humbleness to the team. We just know when she goes up there she’s going to do her job and hit her routines. It’s really good to know we have that stability on the team.”
The reigning Southeastern Conference all-around champion and gymnast of the year, Finnegan is now just one title back of a tie for seventh place between former LSU teammate Ashleigh Gnat and Jennifer Wood with 62 wins each. A strong finish to the season could help Finnegan push into the top five among all-time LSU victories (Susan Jackson is fifth with 74), something she never dreamed of when she arrived in Baton Rouge four years ago.
“Coming into college I didn’t know what to expect,” Finnegan said. “Elite gymnastics and college gymnastics is very different in terms of the scoring system and the team atmosphere.
“Coming in my first year I kind of watched how it all rolled out. That was never a goal for me (being one of LSU’s all-time greats). I just wanted to do my job. The biggest reward is winning a championship and having a chance to enjoy a title with your teammates.”
If Finnegan and her teammates are to enjoy another title of any kind, they will have to produce more consistently good scores, Breaux said.
“We need to get a lot better,” she said. “We need to get stronger and fitter on floor so we can control our landings. McKenna was the only one in total control of every landing on floor. Beam is mental and we’re going to put more pressure on them in practice so they are prepared in competition.”
The Tigers return to SEC competition at 7:30 p.m. next Friday at Kentucky. LSU’s next home meet is Feb. 17 against Missouri.
1. #5 LSU 197.150 (Vault – 49.325, Bars – 49.500, Beam – 49.100, Floor – 49.225)
2. N.C. State 195.375 (Vault – 48.675, Bars – 48.800, Beam – 48.9825, Floor – 48.975)
Individual (includes first place and all LSU competitors)
All-Around — 1. Sarah Finnegan, LSU, 39.650; 2. Kennedi Edney, LSU, 39.425; 3. Drew Grantham, N.C. State, 39.050; 4. Caitlyn Fillard, N.C. State, 38.925.
Vault — 1. Kennedi Edney, LSU, 9.95; 2. Sarah Finnegan, LSU, 9.875; T3. McKenna Kelley, Sarah Edwards, LSU, 9.85; 5. Ruby Harrold, LSU, 9.80; 8. Lexie Priessman, 9.75.
Bars — 1. Sarah Finnegan, LSU, 9.95; 2. Ruby Harrold, LSU, 9.925; T3. Kennedi Edney, Lexie Priessman, LSU, 9.90; 5. Bailey Ferrer, LSU, 9.825; T6. Bridget Dean, LSU, 9.775.
Beam — 1. Sarah Finnegan, LSU, 9.95; T2. Kennedy Edney and Reagan Campbell, LSU, 9.825; T6. Bridget Dean, LSU, 9.775; T9. Christina Desiderio, 9.725; 12. McKenna Kelley, LSU, 9.575.
Floor — 1. McKenna Kelley, LSU, 9.95; T2. Sarah Finnegan, LSU, 9.875; T4. Christina Desiderio, LSU, 9.825; T6. Sarah Edwards, LSU, 9.80; T8. Kennedi Edney, LSU, 9.75; 12. Ruby Harrold, LSU, 9.025.