LSU put up the billboards before the plane even touched down in Baton Rouge: DOMIN8TION. The program might be dominant, winning it second consecutive SEC title, but the meet was anything but. This was a gutty win in which the Tigers had to scratch and claw for every point.
You knew the meet was going to be a dogfight from the beginning. LSU scored a 49.400 on the vault, which is a good score, but not a huge score, and teams that start on the vault tend to need a big score to make that early statement.
The early statement was that not everything was going to go right when the third gymnast in the rotation, Ruby Harrold, failed to land her vault and scored a 9.30. Right away, LSU’s margin for error was gone.
But, as usual for this team, they responded to adversity. Julianna Cannamela calmly stuck her vault and scored a 9.875. Myia Hambrick put up a 9.85, and Kennedi Edney anchored the rotation with a 9.90. Not massive scores, but enough to put up a 49.400. Unfortunately, that’s exactly the score Florida put up on its first rotation, the uneven bars.
The good news for LSU was that the team would perform probably its best rotation this season, the uneven bars. And while we did see the stick crown make a triumphant appearance, again the Tigers scored a 49.400. Not a disaster, but two events in, and LSU had failed to put up a monster score.
This time, Florida took advantage. Win the beam, win the meet. The Gators took DD Breaux’s words and used them against her, scoring a 9.90 or better in four of the six slots. Alex McMurtry anchored the rotation with a 9.90, a step down from the 9.95 she scored on the bars.
At the halfway point, Florida held a 98.950-98.800 lead over LSU. Worse news, LSU had it’s highest scoring apparatus in the rearview mirror, and Florida had already worked its way through Satan’s Apparatus, the beam. They were going to close on the floor and the vault, a chance to put up massive scores and put this thing out of reach. Worse yet, Alex McMurtry was running away with the All-Around title.
LSU turned in another solid rotation, this one in beam. The Tigers didn’t dominate the beam so much as they survived it. The usually reliable Erin Macadaeg scored just a 9.800, well below what she is capable of. The team scored a 49.300. Not a disaster by any means, but not what the team needed. To look to Breaux’s mantra, LSU lost the beam.
But the Tigers would not lose the meet. That’s because Florida ran into an utter disaster on its third rotation, the floor exercise. Amelia Hundley scored a pedestrian 9.775 to kick the rotation off, followed by a 9.175 by Megan Skaggs, due to a missed landing. Now, Florida was going to be forced to carry a score below 9.80 from at least one gymnast on the rotation.
The biggest disaster was to come next, and it was completely unexpected from anyone who follows SEC gymnastics. Alex McMurtry, the reigning queen of SEC gymnastics, had perhaps her worst floor routine in her collegiate career. She missed a landing, and also suffered a tenth of a point deduction for stepping out of bounds. When all was said and done, she scored a 9.125, forcing the team to drop her score and carry Skaggs’ 9.175.
Florida scored a mere 48.400 on the floor rotation, not just the lowest score on any rotation of Session II, but the lowest score on any rotation any team scored all day. Florida dropped out of the lead, and found itself behind LSU 148.100-147.350. Similarly, it ended McMurtry’s chances for the SEC All-Around title.
With such a huge lead, LSU’s floor rotation became more of a party than a competition. It was another solid yet unspectacular rotation, scoring a 49.300. No one scored a 9.90 or above on the floor, and Myia Hamrick’s anchor leg closed with a deduction for stepping out of bounds. It didn’t matter, as LSU already had the title secured.
To give Florida credit, they responded with a 49.475 score on the vault, showing the potential they had to put this meet away had things gone differently on floor. Alex McMurtry regained her composure and landed a 9.975 on the vault, receiving a perfect 10 from two of the four judges.
McMurtry would close the day with SEC titles on two events. Her 9.975 on vault was unmatched, same as her 9.950 on the uneven bars. But her unfortunate floor exercise opened the door for Sarah Finnegan to take the individual All-Around title, and for LSU to take the team title.
It was a stunning loss from one of the best athletes in the SEC in any sport. Should these teams meat again in the postseason, which is likely in the Super Six, do not expect a repeat performance from Alex McMurtry. This was a one-time mistake, and she still looms as one of the biggest threats to LSU’s hopes of a national title.
But for today, we shall celebrate the SEC title. Step one was the regular season title. Step two was the SEC championships. Now it is on to the even bigger prize. One step at a time.