Some meets mean more than the others. Not to say Arkansas is not a quality team, they are, but this weekend's road trip was entirely about one matchup: LSU against Oklahoma.
Oklahoma is the measuring stick. They are one of the pre-eminent programs in the nation, and though they have since been supplanted by Florida atop the rankings, this is one of the best teams in the country. This is the caliber of team that LSU needs to beat if they want to win the national title.
The Sooners laid down the law early, and after two rotations, looked like they were headed for a near unbeatable score. LSU faltered a tad in their first rotation on the bars, but bounced back with a huge result on the vault.
How huge? LSU scored a 49.600, meaning that the team averaged over a 9.900 per gymnast. You get to throw out your lowest score in each rotation, which meant that LSU did not use Rheagan Courville's 9.850. That's right, LSU dominated the vault to such an extent that a 9.850 wasn't good enough.
After those two rotation, LSU had a 98.825, which is a pretty big score, especially as they would head to floor, arguably the team's strongest event. Even with that score, LSU was in a deep hole. After two rotations, Oklahoma had scored a 99.000, and was on pace for that lofty 198 meet score.
OU opened up big on the vault as well, but unlike LSU, did not falter on the bars. The Sooners weren't just great in their first two rotations, they were consistently great. The Sooners scored a 49.525 on the vault and a 49.475 on the bars. LSU was having a great meet after two rotations, yet still found itself down by 0.175.
Well, almost great. Rheagan Courville touched the floor during her bars routine (9.450 score) and somehow scored the lowest of any Tiger gymnast on the vault. LSU is used to getting 9.9's from the top ranked gymnast in the nation, and here she was, struggling in the biggest meet of the year. It wasn't just unexpected, it was nearly unthinkable. But it was happening.
The whole meet would change on the third rotation. Courville, of course, found her usual self and threw down a 9.925. Ashleigh Gnat jumped out of the gym and somehow only got a 9.850. Lloiminica Hall was, well, Lloimincia Hall and anchored the floor with yet another epic performance. LSU scored a 49.500 on the floor, and kept the pressure on the hometown Sooners.
Speaking of pressure, the Sooners wilted underneath it on the balance beam. Two separate gymnasts fell off the beam, and the team never quite seemed to find their rhythm. I'm convinced the beam was invented by sadists who hated people, but no sooner scored higher than a 9.875. not only was Oklahoma forced to keep a 9.375 score, but there weren't many big scores to counteract it.
In just one rotation, the meet was turned upside down. What thirty minutes earlier looked like Oklahoma possibly challenging history now looked like a coronation of LSU. LSU turned the 0.175 deficit into a lead of 0.525. That's a 0.700 point advantage on one rotation.
Now, instead of trying to play catchup, all LSU had to do on the beam was just hold steady. Aside from Jessica Savona's early fall, the Tigers delivered. The Tigers didn't just hold on, they put up another big score: 49.325. LSU had a final score of 197.650, tying not just their high score of the season, but the high score of any team in the nation. In the biggest meet of the year, LSU delivered the goods.
Oklahoma, despite that disastrous third rotation, rallied as well. The Sooners put up 49.525 on the floor exercise, giving them a final score of 197.325. That's a score that would win most meets. It's a score that LSU has only topped twice this year, but it wasn't enough on this day. The story has to be that Oklahoma faltered on the beam, but they were near perfect on the other three rotations. Without that stumble, no team in the country could have beaten them. Something to keep in mind in the future. As great as the Tigers were this weekend, they might have to do better if the teams have a rematch in the Super Six.
One minor quibble with scoring though. I admit that I'm no gymnastics expert, and it didn't make a difference in the final result, but there's no way Oklahoma was better on the floor exercise. Oklahoma outscored LSU on the floor 49.525 - 49.500, and I don't know how that is possible. I watched the two teams along with the Posette and while we're pretty biased, we thought LSU just blew them away. Even the Oklahoma broadcast was raving over the LSU floor exercise, but it wasn't reflected in the scores. I'm not sure how that happened.
The biggest takeaway here is that LSU had their biggest pressure packed test of the season, and they passed with flying colors. They went on the road and beat one of the best teams in the country while putting up their best score of the season. Even more encouraging, Courville had a bit of an off meet, and the rest of the team picked up the slack, particularly Jessie Jordan. Jordan's 39.525 took the all-around title for the meet and if LSU has two gymnasts on the squad who can put up a 39.50 consistently on the all around, then everyone else needs to be afraid.
Notice is served. It's time to seriously consider that LSU is not just a national title contender, but the very best team in the country. LSU gets another chance to prove it on February 21st. That's when the team travels to Gainesville to face #1 Florida. LSU has a chance to prove their bona fides by beating the two best teams in the nation, both on the road.
One down. One to go.