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LSU at Kentucky Meet Recap

This was about as bad a second meet as possible

LSU gymnasts stand in a huddle warm-up leotards prior to their meet against Kentucky in Rupp Arena

Well that could’ve gone better.

LSU’s SEC opener went from good to disastrous Friday night when they fell to Kentucky 197.125-196.575 in Rupp Arena. LSU had never been to Rupp, and it seems like they may never want to go again after what ended up happening. Perhaps it was a bad idea to wear cursed leos again (worn at 2021 SECs and the Kentucky meet last year), or perhaps it was a bad idea to have a meet on Friday the 13th (or both). Either way, this was very bad in the program’s third consecutive loss to Kentucky. If you need anything to feel positive, LSU outscored Alabama that night.

Overall Meet Stuff:

The original plan was to use the same lineups from last week, but things changed at the end. LSU failed to improve upon their score in Utah despite a strong start on bars. The season began when Alyona Shchennikova sat her vault and it was time to see if they’d be able to move past it, which they did rather admirably. The issue I noticed was that some people looked gassed, especially Alyona and Aleah Finnegan. The beam rotation was a bit of a mess, but that’s to be expected because of the injury. The fact that they mostly survived this meet after that is a testament to their grit.

Bars (49.475):

This went much better than last week. Kiya Johnson got things started with a 9.900, finishing with a stuck double layout (DLO). Elena Arenas followed with a 9.825, losing points for straddling her pak salto and for leg separation and a slide back on her DLO. Alexis Jeffrey followed with a 9.900, a score that seemed a bit high since it looked like she missed her third handstand and squatted her half-in-half-out dismount landing (might not have done the latter). Aleah followed up with another 9.900, even though it looked better than Alexis’. Alyona followed up with 9.675 (9.75/9.60 split) that was originally scored a 9.775 before a judges’ conference (the original split was 9.85/9.60, but the range for judges’ scores on routines that score at least a 9.500 may not exceed 0.2). She missed each handstand, had a poor low-bar half turn and had a bad landing on her DLO (piked her chest and took a step). Haleigh Bryant finished things off by tying her bars career high with a 9.950 with one of the best bars routines she’s ever done.

Overall, this was a massive improvement over the Utah rotation. Four of the six routines finished with stuck landings, almost everyone did a better job on hitting handstands and they looked in the zone. However, this was the only rotation on which LSU improved their score from last week. Vault was a little shakier.

Vault (49.200):

It’s early in the season, so this small dip in score is not too worrisome. Elena began with her Yurchenko Full (YF), a 9.95 start value (SV), that scored a 9.800 in part because of a hop back. As mentioned above, Alyona sat her vault, a 10.0 SV Yurchenko 1.5 (Y1.5). She underrotated it and tried to stick it, but the laws of physics were not on her side and she scored a 9.125. LSU did a good job of recovering from it the rest of the way. KJ Johnson hopped back a bit on her YF, but stayed closer to the center than last week and scored a 9.875. Aleah followed with her 10.0 SV Omelianchik, but she underrotated it and had to take a step back. That underrotation was costly, as she scored a 9.750 compared to the 9.850 she scored when she took a step forward at Utah. Kiya followed with a 9.875 on her 10.0 SV Yurchenko Double (DTY). She landed it off to the side and had to slide her right foot over at the end. Haleigh finished things off with her 10.0 SV front handspring (FHS) pike half, and though she hopped back a bit less than she did last week, she still scored a 9.900.

Overall, vault was fine, people just need to work on their landings. The biggest issue with vault, and with every event, comes from what happened at the end of the floor rotation.

Floor (48.825):

Counting a 9.500 was far from the worst thing about this rotation. Sierra Ballard started things off with a 9.850 (9.90/9.80 split) that looked about as good as it did last week with three controlled and stuck passes and a decent leap series (switch half looked a tad short), so the 9.80 split seems confusing. Alyona followed up with another 9.850. Her front double full had a jittery landing (lack of control), her back 1.5 front layout (FLO) had good control, her leap series looked decent, she bounced on her switch half ring landing (looked tired), and her FHS rudi to split jump was very good (best pass). KJ followed up with another 9.850, a marked improvement on her routine from last week. Her full-in landed well (chest position looked good), her back 1.5 FLO was good (not her best), her Popas had much better toe point (they’re supposed to be up like on Alyona’s Ray on bars), and her double tuck landed awkwardly (her right foot came up after she landed, looked like it hurt a bit on the landing). Aleah had a rough floor routine that scored a 9.500. She underrotated her double Arabian and took a step back (didn’t connect to stag jump), looked like she overrotated the punch front following her back 2.5 and had to step forward, did well on her leaps, and underrotated her back 1.5 FLO to the point where she landed with her hips below her knees (.2 deduction) and had to take a step back. She looked tired. Haleigh followed up with a 9.775 during which she also looked a bit tired. Her FHS double front was phenomenal (stuck it instead of following with a controlled step), her FLO rudi landed with a low chest, her leaps were good, and her FHS front double full had leg separation in the air and lacked control upon landing.

Tragedy struck at the end of Kiya’s routine. She did a great full-in, a great back 1.5 FLO and great leaps. Unfortunately, she underrotated her double pike and went to the floor in pain grasping the back of her left leg in the area of the Achilles tendon. She’s had chronic Achilles problems going back to high school, and LSU’s been careful about managing it while knowing it was at risk of tearing. LSU hasn’t said anything to confirm what the injury is, but head coach Jay Clark said it likely ended her season. Despite that, they still had to push through one more rotation.

Beam (49.075):

This was a gutsy rotation that saw some incredible performances (just getting through it was a remarkable feat). Kai Rivers led off with a 9.850 (9.90/9.80) in which she hit her BHS LOSO series without a wobble (unlike last time). She looked stiff on her switch half and she had to swing her arms on her round off (RO) double full to stay up, but it was fine otherwise. Bryce Wilson followed up with a routine that started well but ended scarily when she tried to dismount. Her first back handspring (BHS) went off the beam and she couldn’t do the second one. Her foot slipped on the side of the beam and she landed on the mat head first (she went into concussion protocol and her status for Monday is unknown). KJ had the unenviable task of following that, and she did with a rough 9.575. The back half of the routine got messy, and she followed a balance check on her side aerial with a short sissonne that needed a bigger balance check (took like three or four steps), then finished with BHS back 1.5 that landed with a step back. Haleigh followed that with a 9.950 that brought broadcaster Alicia Quinn to tears. It was an emotionally charged routine that was almost perfect; noticeable leg separation on the dismount prevented it from getting a 10. Aleah followed up with a hard-fought 9.775. Her hips went off to the side on her BHS LO LOSO triple series (whipped back in line with haste), she underrotated her front aerial (another balance check) and she landed her gainer full on one foot, forcing a step over.

The performance of the night was Elena’s 9.925 on beam in Kiya’s spot following her injury. I have never seen her look that calm and focused for any routine or vault, she looked unphased. The only thing that was a bit iffy was her switch half, but she fought to keep it on. She stuck her RO back 1.5 (not sure if she did last year) and gave a rough meet a happy ending.

Overall, this team showed the mentality required to grit through a tough meet and what has now become a much tougher season.

Impact of Kiya’s injury:

I’m not going to sugarcoat things, this injury is massive. LSU’s chances of reaching Nationals or winning the SEC just took a huge hit, as to be expected when losing the equivalent of the team’s starting QB. LSU was counting on her vault so they could run five 10.0 SV vaults, but now LSU has to replace that with another one. Kiya is a solid lead on bars who was crucial to keeping the thinnest event at a high level, now somebody solid enough to hit consistently has to take that spot. Kiya’s the anchor on beam and floor, events on which she scored a 10 last season. All of this on top of Bryce’s injury factors into the meet against Oklahoma tomorrow.

I don’t know what’s going to happen or what the final decisions will be, but in my opinion, that OU meet needs to be for testing out depth and letting some people get needed rest (Alyona and Aleah looked tired). The team has to come together and push past this adversity before it spirals out of control. They are still a very good group capable of making a run to the Regional Finals. Readjust expectations, but don’t think it’s over after two meets.