What a difference a month makes.
A month ago, the season seemed lost. OK, maybe not lost, as that is a bit harsh, but it didn’t seem like this LSU gymnastics squad was going to compete for titles. Hey, not every team is a championship team.
On February 8, LSU lost to Kentucky. They didn’t just lose, the Tigers got absolutely destroyed, 197.150-196.025. The loss dropped LSU to 3-3 overall and 1-3 in the hyper competitive SEC. And LSU simply doesn’t score under 197, much less flirt with dropping a score below 196.
LSU steadied the ship with a pair of meets the next weekend, getting back on the positive side of the ledger and a season-high 197.650 at home against Missouri.
Since the calendar flipped to March, DD Breaux’s charges have simply found another gear, one I didn’t think this team had. They crushed Georgia 197.900-196.325 and then followed that up with a 198.150 score against Oregon St. Proving this wasn’t a fluke but instead a new level of form, LSU broke the 198 barrier again, this time on the road at Arizona with a season-high 198.175.
Now, LSU enters the SEC Championships as the hottest team in the nation. Forget the six-match winning streak, it’s the scores which jump off the page. LSU has averaged a 197.708 score during that six-meet run, and is averaging over a 198 in its past three meets.
What seemed impossible a month ago is now a reality, LSU is the top seed hosting the SEC Championships in New Orleans. LSU boasts the nation’s third highest RQS at 197.680 and will be a seeded favorite to make it to the first four-team NCAA finals.
Furthermore, the great Sarah Finnegan enters the meet as the nation’s second-ranked all around gymnast, with a RQS of 39.675. She ranks in the top five in the nation in three of the four disciplines, vault being the lone apparatus out.
Now, this doesn’t mean anyone is going to just come out and hand LSU the title. Florida is still the nation’s fourth-ranked team, and the Gators have been far more consistent on the season. Florida is coming off a 198+ score of their own, a 198.025 at home against Penn St.
The Gators big weakness is vault. Florida ranks third in every other rotation, but ninth in the vault. They scored a 48.950 on vault as recently as March 1st. For a team that usually shows no signs of cracking, that’s the one vulnerability. But if the Gators throw down a big vault score, then we are off to the races.
On the other hand, LSU ranks fourth in nearly every rotation, save the third-ranked beam rotation. Win the beam, win the meet. But that’s a difficult way to pick up points. However, LSU’s rankings are a bit skewed by the early season’s difficulties. Judged by the past month, this is the top team in the SEC, it just now needs to be put to the test. It’s one thing to put up huge scores when the pressure is off, quite another to do it in the postseason for the big trophies.
This team has the skill to win the SEC and advance far this postseason. Now they have to show they have the mental toughness to do it. Could LSU be peaking at exactly the right time?
We’ll find out at 7 PM on Saturday night at the Smoothie King Center. Or, for those of us at home, on ESPN2.