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Gym Advances to Nationals

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LSU overcomes injuries and sickness to put away a tough regional field

FloSports: FloGymnastics Georgia at LSU
Sarah Finnegan is awesome
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

LSU advanced to the new eight-team gymnastics national semifinals with a tense but workmanlike victory in the friendly confines of their home gym.

The Tigers didn’t rack up the big scores, some of it due to the usual bout of postseason judging we have all come to know and love, but also partly due to some strong tactics: LSU took the points on the table and didn’t try and go for more, putting the pressure on the other teams to keep pace and not make a mistake.

For the first half of the meet, Utah and Minnesota kept up the pace, but eventually, the pressure of keeping up with LSU’s metronome-like consistency took its toll, and the Gophers finally made enough small errors to fall off of the pace.

This play-within-yourself strategy might not be the usual tact for DD Breaux, especially with a team that seemed to be peaking down the stretch, but the Tigers had to adjust due to some key injuries and star Sarah Finnegan coming down with the flu. Lexie Priessman had missed three weeks with an injured bicep and McKenna Kelly tweaked her gimpy ankle in the pregame warmups. Priessman watched the regionals from the sidelines while Kelly gamely anchored the floor, scoring a 9.925.

But it was Sarah Finnegan who added to her legacy and staked her claim as the greatest gymnast in LSU’s proud history. Finnegan, who appeared before the media days before wrapped in a blanket and wearing a surgical mask, ripped through the competition, scoring a 9.90 or better on three of the four rotations. A 9.80 floor score preventing her from winning the all around title outright, but she shared the title with Utah’s MaKenna Merrell-Giles, who also scored a 39.600 overall. Finnegan also added the balance beam title to her list of honors.

LSU roared out to a huge start with a 49.500 on beam, and it seemed like this meet might be a walk in the park. Unfortunately for LSU, by the midway point, it was clear that Utah and Minnesota were bringing their A games as well.

At the halfway point, LSU had a 98.850 score, but Utah was down by half of a tenth of a point with a 98.800. Minnesota wasn’t far behind at 98.650. This was going to be a tough regional.

Auburn sat in last at 97.450, well out of contention. Normally, given my Auburn-hating bona fides, this is the point of the article I would make fun of Auburn. Hell, I’d probably bump it up closer to the top of the article.

But Auburn saw one of their stars, Sam Cerio, suffer a horrific injury during her floor routine on Friday, and piling on with a bunch of jokes is simply wrong. Cerio broke both of her legs on the floor routine, delaying the meet for eight minutes as she was attended to by medical personnel and then carted off on a stretcher. No, I will not post the video. It’s bad, and you don’t want to see it. We make fun in the name of rivalry, but that’s a person who just suffered a painful injury which likely will end her career. There’s nothing to do but wish her a speedy recovery.

Back to the competition, LSU put the meet away in the third rotation not by putting up big scores, but by not making any mistakes and staying consistent. LSU had good scores on the vault, scoring a 49.350, running the overall score to 148.200.

Minnesota started off poorly on the floor, scoring under a 9.80 on each of the first three routines. The Gophers rallied in the back half, but the damage was done. Their 49.125 gave them a 147.775 overall, putting LSU out of reach barring a complete Tiger collapse.

Utah also struggled in the third rotation, leading off the rotation with a 9.775 and a 9.750. But the real disaster came in the anchor spot.

MyKayla Skinner, who was on pace to win the all-around having already posted what would be the high score of the night on both floor and vault, shockingly missed the bar on her transition. Falling to the mat, she lost both the individual all-around title and any chance Utah had of winning the team competition. Her 9.175 was dropped, and Utah entered the fourth rotation at 147.900, three tenths behind LSU. Had Skinner completed her routine and scored her usual 9.90 or above, it is an entirely different meet.

Utah would rally during its final rotation to hold off Minnesota. Utah opened up the beam rotation with a 9.90 and never looked back. MyKayla Skinner put the final touches on the meet for the Utes with a 9.875 in the anchor slot, as Utah beat back Minnesota 197.250-196.900.

LSU’s final rotation, on the bars, was one of celebration. Sarah Finnegan took the mat with a regional win already secured, but that didn’t stop her from wowing the crowd one least time with a 9.95 to win the all-around title and send LSU to Fort Worth in style.

LSU’s 197.500 won’t be enough in Fort Worth, but the Tigers competed in the meet before them. They kept it close to the vest, and advanced to the semifinals in almost professional manner. Just another day at the office, and another regional title.