D-D Breaux thanks Joe Alleva for elevating LSU gymnastics

LSU coach D-D Breaux with two-time NCAA vault champion Kennedi Edney to her far right during the SEC Championship meet at the Smoothie King Center on Saturday, March 23, 2019.

The LSU gymnastics team lost one of its more prolific graduating classes in 2019, and Friday’s Gym 101 showcase — an event coach D-D Breaux started in 2014 — will give the Tigers a chance to get adjusted to a new season without that group.

Gym 101 is an exhibition-style showcase — not a competition, Breaux emphasizes — that gives freshmen the opportunity to do their routines on the performance floor for the first time while also giving upperclassmen a chance to get re-acclimated with their routines.

“It’s an opportunity to be under the lights and under that huge scoreboard with our competition equipment,” Breaux said. “Giving our athletes, even the ones that aren’t going to be ready to compete, giving them an opportunity to re-feel and get on the floor.”

Breaux said it’s called Gym 101 because she gets on the microphone to commentate and gives critiques on the performances during the routines. A regular competition judge is present during Gym 101, but the team does not publicize scores.

“She judges, but she does it to give us information about maybe something’s not in a routine or what we could do better as coaches from a judge’s perspective,” Breaux said. “It gives us an opportunity to get an early look at what a judge might think.”

After losing a dynamic class of Sarah Finnegan, Lexie Priessman, McKenna Kelley and Julianna Cannamela, the Tigers bring in a freshman class of seven gymnasts to bolster the roster.

“We’ve got some great freshmen,” Breaux said. “We’re really looking forward to Kiya Johnson — beautiful all-arounder. When you lose the kind of depth and talent that we lost, we’re trying to plug in and find it in a pretty talented freshman class.”

Breaux raved about Johnson’s gymnastics, even comparing her to Finnegan, who is the most decorated gymnast in program history. Breaux said Johnson will compete in the all-around alongside senior Kennedi Edney once the season comes around.

Fellow freshmen Kai Rivers and Alyona Shchennikova also will contribute routines, but both are recovering from injuries and will be limited throughout the season.

Shchennikova will not perform at Gym 101 as she continues to recover from an Achilles tendon injury, but Breaux expects her to contribute on the uneven bars by the first or second meet.

Rivers won a national championship on the uneven bars and placed second in the all-round at the 2019 Junior Olympics during her senior year of high school despite managing an injury throughout that season.

“If we can get her back, get her going, she’ll do bars this weekend,” Breaux said. “We’ve almost got her ready to do beam. The power events, which are her best events, she probably will not see action in those events early on. With any luck at all, we’ll have her better at the end of the season.”

Breaux emphasized that Gym 101 is an opportunity for all gymnasts on the team, not just the freshmen, to get a real feel of competing on the competition floor.

Breaux pointed out that walk-on Olivia Gunter could break into the floor lineup this season with a lot of difficulty in her routine, and Gym 101 is a clear opportunity to compete. Sophomores Reagan Campbell and Sami Durante may also be in three events each by the end of the season.

"It’s going to be a work in progress," Breaux said. "Last year, we started slow and finished hard. We think it’s going to be that kind of process for us, being able to plug different kids in the lineup as we move forward.”