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2021 Gym Preview

The talent is there, but it isn’t quite ready yet

2019 NCAA Division I Women’s Gymnastics Championship
The Bug is back!
Photo by Timothy Nwachukwu/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Well, we skipped the rebuilding year!

Last year, LSU brought in a heralded recruiting class to replace one of the most decorated and accomplished senior classes in school history. We warned that the team was talented, but likely would be inconsistent as the underclassmen discovered their roles and comfort levels.

The season started to play out that way, with a remarkable 197.775 score thrown down in between a sea of mid-196 scores. When the season closed, right before the SEC Championships, LSU had scored five consecutive 197+ scores and had reeled off nine consecutive wins. The team was rounding into form right as they hit the postseason and then…

Well, you know.

Then came the even bigger news, at least for LSU gym, that the dean of SEC coaches, the legendary DD Breaux announced her retirement after 43 years. This is the program she built, and she leaves it in the capable hands of Jay Clark as the head coach, and brings back LSU legend Ashleigh Gnat as an assistant. But it’s gonna feel weird not seeing DD in her crazy jackets out there.

But the good news is she left the cupboard fully stocked and a program poised to contend for that elusive national title. LSU loses two more rocks of the program in Kennedi Edney and Ruby Harrold, but brought in another outstanding recruiting class to cover for the graduating seniors.

However, the team brings back Sarah Edwards, who missed most of last season with an injury. She will compete with sophomore Kiya Johnson for the spotlight as the team’s top gymnast in the all-around. The injuries last year forced Johnson into a larger role than anticipated, which should pay dividends this season. She’s used to being the team’s focal point.

Outside of Edwards, the team returns five other seniors.

Reagan Campbell is a stalwart on the beam and the floor and Bridget Dean was on three rotations all season, though she was more forced into the floor role due to injuries throughout the roster. She excels at the beam and bars. Sami Durante was also forced to add a rotation due to the injury plague (vault), but will likely return to her dual specialty of bars and beam. Christina Desiderio actually blossomed on the floor after adding that rotation in mid-February last season. Olivia Gunter provides depth which, as we saw last season, you need.

That’s a pretty solid senior class, though the stars (outside of Edwards) are found elsewhere on the team. The seniors provide that solid foundation on which to build and allow the talented freshmen and sophomores to slide into their roles.

Maddie Rau locked down a spot on the vault last season and Alyona Shchennikova did the same on the bars. While Kiya Johnson clearly established herself in the all-around (and on the floor, where she AVERGAED a 9.950), Kai Rivers flashed a ton of talent on the vault and bars, even if she was a tad inconsistent.

The team is exceptionally deep and due to the fantastic freshmen class and already loaded sophomore class, there won’t be as much pressure for just a small number of gymnasts to cover so many rotations. Each gymnasts will be able to focus on their specialties, and let the depth of the squad take over.

I think we’ll se the coaches experiment a lot with the rotation early on to see who can fill what role, building around Edwards and Johnson in the all around.

Freshman Haleigh Bryant is the gem on the incoming class and is a threat to compete in the all-around, but it is more likely she is eased into the rotation on floor and vault. She has won three consecutive national vault titles in her L10 division and that’s with missing the 2020 event due to COVID concerns.

A huge key to this class is Olivia Dunne, who is a beam specialist, though can compete in the all-around. LSU has lacked a truly top tier beam routine in recent seasons. LSU ranked 6th in the national last year in beam, which is where the team has hovered around in the last 3 seasons. LSU has got to improve there.

The big shock last year was that LSU ranked 13th in the floor exercise, usually a team specialty. That’s the event at which LSU has got to see the biggest improvement if it wished to compete for the title. Bringing in a talented freshman class, getting the team healthy (especially Edwards), and seeing the former underclassmen gain some consistency should solve that problem. But that is the event to watch this season. LSU has got to get back to its dominant ways on the floor.

This team is good enough to win the national title. It probably needs some things to break right and it certainly needs some of the roster to develop. But LSU skipped the true rebuilding season that was 2020. The team is now built.

Time to go win this thing. Do it for DD.