Three weeks ago, the LSU gymnastics team seemed to have lost its way. The team had moved past merely inconsistent, and into possibly also-ran status. Which wouldn't be a great tragedy for such a young team, but the highs weren't all that high and the lows were getting lower.
On Valentine's Day, LSU had cleared the 197.000 threshold in just one meet, and was coming off a 0.725-point loss to Georgia, a team that was not likely to contend for the SEC title. Before the Tigers lay a stretch of three top 10 teams (two of them in the top 5), all in conference, and both the defending national champs and SEC champs.
The schedule was about to get a lot harder, and LSU had struggled against the conference's middle class. Facing the top tier of the SEC looked like a daunting prospect, and one that would relegate LSU to the status of a non-contender. A good team, to be sure, but not one that harbored realistic hopes of winning a national title.
Fast forward three weeks to the present, and things could not look more different. LSU navigated the toughest stretch of its schedule with aplomb, winning three consecutive meets by not just blowing past the 197.000 mark, but knocking on the door of a 198.000. LSU conquered the toughest the SEC, and the nation, has to offer, and goes into postseason play as not just a contender for the Super Six, but a real threat to win both the SEC and national titles.
LSU first defeated Auburn 197-825-197.125 in dominating fashion, keyed by a season-high 49.700 on the floor to close out the meet. But come on, that was just Auburn. Auburn is a good team, and they stole LSU's place in the Super Six last year, but the loss dropped Auburn to 5-5 on the season.
Enter Florida. LSU went on the road to beat the number two team in the nation in one of the most exciting LSU sporting events of this academic calendar year. The two squads kept throwing haymakers at one another, putting up huge score after huge score. LSU went into the final rotation, the dreaded balance beam, down by 0.075 points. The Gators delighted the home crowd with a 49.475 on the floor, but it wasn't enough to stop LSU, who somehow scored a 49.575 on Satan's Apparatus, besting the 49.525 the Gators put up on the previous rotation.
By the time the smoke cleared, LSU had defeated Florida 197.900-197.875 in Gainesville. That's as close as a meet can get, made more impressive that both teams threatened to crack the elusive 198-point barrier. It was a staggeringly great performance by both squads, and served notice that LSU was legit. But the nagging concerns about the team's consistency remained.
Well, wonder no more. LSU followed up its biggest win of the season with a thoroughly dominating performance on Senior Night against hated Alabama, the number 3 team in the country. LSU's scores over the past three weeks, since that 196.800 against Georgia, have been, in order, 197.825, 197.900, and now 197.925.
That's peaking just in time for the postseason.
Even more impressive about LSU's season best score was that it came without the benefit of a pace car. Florida's great performance drove LSU to greater heights last week, but this week, Alabama stumbled right out of the gate. The Tide fell on two of its bar performances, forcing them to carry a 9.575 score. By the end of the first rotation, the score was 49.375-48.825 and the meet was, for all intents and purposes, already over.
Instead of putting things into cruise control, the Tigers instead mashed the accelerator to the floor, reaching for even bigger scores, to the delight of the record crowd of 13,296. Ashleigh Gnat closed things out on an emphatic note, scoring a perfect 10 on the final floor routine, securing the 197.925-196.225 win.
True, Alabama had an off night, but LSU delivered an absolute curb stomping in this one. There was no let up, no lack of focus, none of that previous inconsistency which dogged this team through January. All that was left was total domination and a near perfect meet to close out the conference season.
LSU travels to Denton next week to face Oregon St. and New Hampshire in one final tune up before the postseason begins. There doesn't seem like a lot this team needs to tune up right now, as it is hitting on all cylinders, and at exactly the right time.