All’s well that ends well, right?
The first meet of the season is the one in which you expect some rocky performances as the team knocks of the dust from the long offseason, but this might have taken it a step too far. LSU struggled throughout the night and Arkansas kept the pressure on, and suddenly, the Tigers needed some elite level performances to squeak out a win.
Let’s talk about the good first.
Haleigh Bryant is the Truth. The freshman anchored the first vault rotation and her 9.90 was the highest score by a Tiger on the vault. Even more importantly, her 9.90 score matched the 9,90 scored by Maggie O’Hara in the anchor slot for Arkansas on the bars rotation, going on concurrently.
LSU was down after the first rotation, 49.250-49.175, but Bryant was the one who kept that score manageable. Bryant would only appear once more, in the meet’s penultimate floor routine, in which she scored a 9.975, setting the tone for the fireworks to come. Again, her score was massively important, as it kept the Tigers in range, and it bested the corresponding score from the similarly slotted Arkansas gymnast: Kennedy Hambrick scored a 9.90 in the fifth slot on the beam.
It’s a little early to be calling anyone out, but Alyona Shchennikova had a meet that she would like to forget about entirely. She fell on her opening vault, had a rocky bars routine which scored just a 9.725, and then had to cut elements from her floor routine, scoring just a 9.650.
Hey, we all have those kind of days, but I do question Jay Clark giving Shchennikova three different rotations, particularly when it was clear she was having an off night. There comes a point you have to pull her floor routine and consider another option.
She’s coming off injury, so I like getting her lots of action early to test out her form, but Sarah Edwards is similarly coming off injury, and she only got two rotation slots (on floor and vault). And Edwards was the team’s best all-arounder before Kiya Johnson showed up.
We’ve come this far, so let’s complete the analogy. What was the ugly?
After a slow start, LSU regained the lead with a solid 49.200 on the bars while Arkansas struggled mightily on the vault. At the halfway point, LSU held a 98.375-98.175 and order had been restored. Now, LSU would slowly pull away and out this match to bed. Only that didn’t happen.
The trouble started with Elena Arenas. The freshman bobbled her way to a 9.575 in the second slot, putting the pressure on the rest of the team to be perfect on the rest of the rotation, so as not to carry such a score. Sami Durante put in a 9.70, which seemed like a harsh score, but it was clear she was playing it safe. Bridget Dean sparked life back into the rotation with a 9.90 and paired with Christiana Desiderio’s leadoff 9.875, it seemed LSU was on its way to a good score on the beam.
Then disaster from the least likely of places. Kiya Johnson fell off the beam and scored just a 9.275. It was the kind of mistake she never makes, and one that’s best to get out of the way now (and she would more than make up for on the next rotation). Reagan Campell failed to bail the team out with a lackluster 9.775 in the anchor slot, and LSU ended up scoring a mere 48.825 on the bea. LSU was down three quarters of a point, headed to the final rotation.
I’m a firm believer that the upperclassmen hold on to their rotation slots until the underclassmen knock them out. There is something to be said for experience, and having that ice water in your veins when the meet is at its decisive points. The freshmen and sophomores are ridiculously talented, but you need that senior leadership to form the foundation. How did they do?
A bit of a mixed bag. Edwards scored 9.875 on both of her rotations, hinting that she might be ready to go back to her full all-around duties. Campbell didn’t come through with a massive score in the anchor slot on beam, but she did keep the lights on. Sometimes a 9.80 is what you need.
Bridget Dean had a huge beam (9.90) and a miserable floor exercise (9.625, with a penalty for stepping out). So an inconsistent night there, too. But that’s par for the course on openers. The senior who really came through was Desiderio, who got beam started off right with a 9.875 before the wheels came off and seemed to build on Edwards’ momentum with a 9.85 in the middle of the floor rotation.
The seniors didn’t kill it, but the freshmen didn’t exactly push them off their jobs either. Except for Haleigh Bryant, who looked spectacular in limited duty.
But the biggest new was that after Dean’s step out and Schennikova’s 9.65 on floor, things looked pretty dire. Arkansas was hitting on the beam and keeping the pressure on, and LSU’s win streak looked like it was in serious jeopardy.
And in those two final slots, Bryant scored a 9.975 and Kiya Johnson nailed an imperfect ten. OK, she might have taken a step out but it didn’t matter anyway. Due to Bryant’s massive score, Kiya only needed a 9.825 to win anyway, and she certainly cleared that from even a red-and-white judge. But more important than the score is just how clutch those two were.
Things were falling out of control and every good moment seemed to be immediately undermined by a bad one. LSU knew it was going to have to carry a 9.65 at least on this final rotation, one which they needed a big score in which to come back. And Haleigh and Kiya showed no nerves at all. They came out and just killed it. They left no doubt.
It was an ugly win, but it was one in which the team found out exactly what they are made of. We found ourselves two anchors upon which we can rely.