LSU’s new-found dominance in gymnastics didn’t happen all at once. It was a solid program for years with its share of great gymnasts who earned the highest honors in the sport.
But Rheagan Courville was different, and it was the moment LSU went from a really good program to a great one. Courville grew up in Baton Rouge, attended University Lab High, and trained under former LSU great Susan Jackson. She grew up to become a Tiger.
And in 2012, she burst on to the scene, fully formed like Athena sprouting from the head of Zeus. She was a first-team All-American on vault and in the all-around in her first year. No freshman caveat, she was already one of the best college gymnasts in the nation in her first year.
Courville even won the all-around title in Semifinal I with a 39.475, though her score finished seventh overall once all the second session was complete. Still, it qualified for All-American honors, just the seventh freshman in LSU history at the time to earn that honor, and the first since her former coach, Susan Jackson.
Her sophomore year built on the promise of the first. She earned All-American honors in six events, three at the NCAA championships and three in the regular season. She won her first national title, this one in vault, matching Jackson again, who won her vault national title as a sophomore as well. She scored a 39.575 in the Semifinals, earning her runner up honors in the individual all-around, missing the title by just 0.025.
Courville would score a remarkable 9.975 on the vault in her junior year, the highest score to ever win the vault title. Despite breaking the scoring record, she had to share the title. She did not repeat her all-around runner-up finish, so she made up for it by winning eight All-American honors.
LSU would return to the Super Six in Courville’s sophomore year, but it was her performance in 2014, her junior year, which carried LSU to its best finish ever at the time, a third place finish behind co-champions Florida and Oklahoma. For the first time, LSU was on the podium, and Rheagan was a huge part in pulling LSU to that height.
In her senior year, Courville broke the LSU record by winning her 26th career all-around title. Number 26 was at the SEC Championship, where she became the first LSU gymnast in history to win her second SEC all-around title.
She would also score her third career perfect 10 on the vault against Minnesota:
When she arrived on campus, LSU was a fringe contender. A respected program, but one still on the cusp. Courville helped the team break through and usher in the Golden Age we enjoy right now. The dominant team playing before packed houses was built partly by Rheagan Courville.
She is one of the greats, in any sport.