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LSU coach Jay Clark cheers on his team before the start of the vault at the home opener against Oklahoma on Monday, Jan. 16, 2023 at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. Oklahoma topped LSU 197.600-197.450.

Coach Jay Clark has a rule of thumb for monitoring wear and tear on his LSU gymnastics team.

When he’s fatigued, perhaps after a tough meet or a long road trip, he knows that his team likely feels the same way — but in spades. The start to this season, for Clark and his team, has been particularly taxing.

The Tigers performed in three meets in seven days. They lost all-around superstar Kiya Johnson to an Achilles tear, freshman beam specialist Bryce Wilson to a concussion and junior Olivia Dunne to a stress reaction in her left leg. There was also the infamous viral mob of young men who screamed for Dunne outside the season-opening meet at Utah.

The crowd dispersed after the meet, but the barrage of questions about security protocols and name, image and likeness deals only grew in the weeks that followed.

So it's understandable if Clark and his team are feeling spent, but there is a sliver lining. After all of that, the Tigers average score of 196.988 ranks eighth in the country and third in the Southeastern Conference. The Tigers earned their first win of the season Friday night against Missouri, and the toughest stretch of their regular season is over.

“I was a little disappointed in the way that we weren’t able to put all events together (against Missouri),” Clark said. “But we did enough to get a conference win against a very solid team that finished fifth in the country last year and returned everyone, so it felt good.”

Depth tested

Clark said Monday that LSU likely will be without both Wilson and Dunne when it faces Arkansas on Friday night on the road.

Wilson is cleared from her concussion and practicing on beam, he said, but LSU likely will hold her out in Fayetteville, allowing her another week to regain her confidence. Clark estimated that Dunne is still at least two weeks away from returning to the floor from the stress reaction in her left leg. He called the injury “kind of tricky.”

“That’ll be a big shot in the arm when we can get (Dunne) back on both bars and floor,” Clark said. “So those two will be very big to get back in the mix.”

The injuries have forced this group — which Clark has acknowledged lacks the depth of past LSU squads — to use lineups it hadn’t planned on using. The Tigers don’t have much flexibility left. They could go one deeper in a couple of spots, Clark said, but they’re trotting out nearly all the routines they have at their disposal.

“We’ve taken some lumps,” he said. “We may still take some more. You certainly don’t want that to happen, but we’ve got to be patient and let this team grow into its identity and who they are.

"I believe in this group. I think that, given the chance, if we don’t have any major setbacks, we can make some noise in March and April for sure.”