Well, that was exciting.
As a general rule, regionals are not quite formalities, but they aren’t edge of your seat viewing, either, particularly for a team like LSU. While there might be a battle over the second spot, the top seed is supposed to glide through with minimal difficulty.
“Supposed to” is doing a lot of work in that sentence.
Instead, LSU found itself in dogfights on consecutive days simply to make it to nationals. The second day of the regional was intense that four of the top eight scores in the nation all occurred in Salt Lake City. Every team performed well enough to advance, and it was a cruel reality that only two could.
Before LSU could take part in that epic regional final, it had to survive day one.
Things started poorly. Sami Durante fell off the beam in the second slot of the first rotations, followed immediately by Haleigh Bryant stepping off the beam as well. LSU would be forced to carry Bryant’s 9.225, limping its way to a miserable 48.700.
Not to beggar the obvious, but that’s not the way to you want to start things off. The poor start was made worse by the fact Kentucky roared out of the gates with a 49.475 on bars. Utah St. and Arizona both scored over a 49.0 on their first rotations, putting LSU in a deep hole to dig out of.
The combination of a rough start coupled with every other team hitting their routines is the kind of toxic combo which can spell doom for a team. LSU rallied for a 49.350 on floor, but Bryant fell again on her routine, and Sierra Ballard stepped out, suffering a tenth deduction. Kiya Johnson came up huge in the anchor slot, but LSU scored a 49.350, which is good but not great, and clawed their way to 98.050 at the halfway point, 0.650 behind Kentucky, but only 0.150 behind Utah St and well ahead of Arizona, who scuffled on the bars.
At this point, the path was clear. Barring a total collapse, Kentucky was uncatchable, but LSU should be able to reel in Utah St. LSU didn’t need to be perfect, but they needed some big scores. Big scores, they got.
LSU simply crushed the final two rotations, scoring a 49.525 on vault and a 49.450 on bars to close things out. There were some nervous moments as Chase Brock fell off the bars in the second slot, leaving the door open and forcing the rest of her teammates to nail their routines to close it out, but the Tigers picked each other up. LSU wouldn’t have to carry the fall.
In the end, LSU ended up a full point clear of Utah St, and narrowed the margin to Kentucky to a single tenth. LSU might have dug itself a hole, but it climbed out of it with grace and aplomb. The Tigers almost erased the entire Kentucky lead thanks to an epic pace, one they would need to continue on Day Two.
Day Two was sort of the opposite of Day One. Instead of needing to come back, this time the Tigers needed to hold on, while every other team kept hitting landing after landing.
At the halfway point, Utah and LSU were setting blistering pace: Utah at 99.075 and LSU at 98.950. Normally, those are comfortable “this meet is over” kind of scores. Instead, Arizona St was right on their heels at 98.775 and Kentucky was somehow in fourth place with a huge 98.725 score.
The story of the meet can best be told in each team’s lowest scoring rotation: LSU scored a 49.275 on bars, Utah a 49.225 on vault on the final rotation and nursing their lead. Chasing them, ASU’s worst rotation was a 49.300 on vault, just behind Kentucky’s 49.325.
Can you imagine your worst rotation being a 49.325 and NOT advancing? That’s what happened to Kentucky. It was a meet in which everyone kept hitting their routines and there simply was no room for error.
In the end, LSU held off the upstarts with a 197.750 score, just 0.150 ahead of ASU and Kentucky, who tied for third. A 197.600 is a huge score in a regional, and usually a guaranteed ticket to the next round. Not on Saturday.
It was simply one of the most tense, exciting sporting events I’ve ever watched. There was no margin for error, and no one ever made one. LSU simply held off the charge, and breathed a sigh of relief in the end. Kiya made it interesting by slipping off the beam in the penultimate slot on the beam, the final rotation, but her score was dropped once Reagan Campbell nailed a 9.925 to close things out.
That beam performance sums up the team. In a near deadlock, LSU lead off the beam with two straight 9.90+ performances. Alyona Schennikova struggled, but hung on for a gritty 9.825, only for Bridget Dean to slam the door with a 9.925. LSU’s 49.525 erased a small UK edge on the final rotation, as the cats managed a 49.350 on floor in their final rotation while ASU’s 49.525 on bars wasn’t enough to erase their gap.
Win the beam, win the meet. Well, LSU won the beam when it mattered most. And now they are off to the Semifinal of Death in Fort Worth against Oklahoma, Utah, and Alabama. No gifts.