For a mere exhibition, LSU’s Gymnastics 101 Showcase on Monday night had plenty of what you want to see in a sporting event.
There was power in the routines of junior Kennedi Edney, who flew at least six feet off the end of the balance beam and earned LSU’s now familiar stick crown after nailing the landing.
There was the grace of fellow all-arounder Sarah Finneagan, the senior who floated through her four events looking as though she was already in midseason form.
Then there was the emotion of McKenna Kelley being back on floor, the fourth-year gymnast who missed all of the 2018 season after rupturing an Achilles’ tendon in practice in November 2017.
Before Kelley made her long-awaited return on floor exercise, senior Lexie Priessman had just one bit of advice.
“Save the tears for after,” Priessman told her.
That wasn’t easy, even for Finnegan, as the 3,200 fans in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center rose to their feet for a standing ovation as Kelley readied herself for the long-awaited routine.
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“I’m so excited,” Finnegan said. “She was right before me and when everyone started cheering I almost started crying.”
Known for her upbeat demeanor even when she was reduced to a spectator’s role last season, Kelley was still beaming moments after completing her final pass.
“I’m in awe,” she said. “This is what I was working for. This is what kept me going.”
LSU coach D-D Breaux, who confirmed that Kelley will compete as a senior in 2019 and not seek a fifth year in 2020, said the plan is to increase Kelley’s level of difficulty slowly thorugh the season.
“She’ll do a watered down routine the first half of the season and build toward the postseason,” Breaux said. “We’re having to go slow. The same with Lexie.”
The event was a true exhibition. Though one judge was present, no scoring was announced. LSU associate head coach Jay Clark was able to help assist the gymnasts through their passes on uneven bars and floor. And a number of Tigers who will be expected to make big contributions in 2019 either watched or had reduced roles.
Priessman was one of those, seeing her only action on vault after the shoulder she had surgery on in the offseason gave her some trouble during warmups. Freshman Bailey Ferrer, who trained under Ashleigh Gnat’s father Ray near Orlando, Florida, arrived at LSU on Monday and was on the floor but did not compete. She is expected to be a big contributor in 2019, however.
LSU, which finished fourth in the 2018 NCAA Super Six in St. Louis in April, opened at No. 4 Monday in a preseason poll of NCAA gymnastics coaches behind reigning NCAA champion UCLA, Oklahoma and Florida. Rankings during the season are based on team scores.
The Tigers essentially only have to replace five of 24 routines from 2018 filled by departed senior all-arounder Myia Hambrick and departed senior beam specialist Erin Macadaeg.
“We have people ready to step up and we’re excited about it,” Breaux said.
The Tigers open the regular season at home Jan. 4 against preseason No. 8 California. The meet is set for 7:10 p.m. on SECNetwork+.