LSU opens its home slate with the toughest test of the season.
The #13 Tigers are finally home for their third meet in 11 days to face defending national champions #1 Oklahoma. LSU lost to Kentucky 197.125-196.575 Friday night in Lexington, their third straight regular season loss to the Wildcats. In the process, they lost Kiya Johnson for the season to an Achilles injury, dealing a massive blow on all four events. Bryce Wilson is also out after a scary fall on beam, but head coach Jay Clark said she could be back by Friday’s meet against Missouri. The meet begins at 2:00 p.m. on ESPN2, and for those heading to the meet, doors open at 12:30 and intros begin at 1:47. Once again, all rankings are based on Road to Nationals rankings as of today.
LSU vs Oklahoma history:
LSU is 11-21 in all competitions against OU and 2-2 at home. The last head-to-head meeting between the two teams came at Nationals in Fort Worth in 2021, but the last dual meet between the teams came in 2016, when the #5 Tigers opened their season with a 196.950-196.725 win over the #1 Sooners in front of a packed PMAC. Oklahoma’s become infamous among LSU fans because LSU finished national runners up four times, all to OU (and Florida in 2014 when both teams tied for the title).
OU came into the preseason ranked #1 for good reason. The Sooners won their fifth national championship in eight tournaments last season despite being in fourth after the first rotation. This year’s team is basically last year’s team but better.
They lost four people from last year’s squad, but their biggest loss was probably Carly Woodard on beam. They retained two seniors who are going into their fifth years: Allie Stern, an all-arounder who was taken off beam February 19 last year, and Olivia Trautman, a vault and beam specialist who began competing beam February 19 last year (this has happened the past two seasons and likely will again this year, so don’t expect her today). OU brings in three freshmen, but they’ll probably only use Ava Siegfeldt and Faith Torrez (a star who can do all-around).
This team has talent up and down the roster, but their most talented gymnast has to be sophomore Jordan Bowers, an all-arounder who got taken off beam last season because of inconsistency. She’s an unbelievable talent.
OU’s coming off a 197.925 at Super 16 in Las Vegas Saturday, January 7 (yes, they’ve had extra rest, too), finishing with the highest score of any team in the nation in the first week. They rank 2nd on vault (49.425), 4th on bars (49.450), 2nd on beam (49.525) and 2nd on floor (49.525). Bars has been their strongest event while floor has been their weakest. Also, they run six 10.0 SV vaults already while LSU might be running three today.
K.J. Kindler is in her 17th season as OU’s head coach, having created a dynastic reign over the sport in the last decade. OU’s last finish outside the top three was in 2012 and OU’s last home loss was a 2014 loss to LSU (that’s seven and a half straight seasons without a home loss). She’s basically the Nick Saban of gymnastics right now in the way she wins a lot and gets her athletes to motivate themselves (but without the disastrous Bill O’Brien hire).
LSU comes into this meet ranked 7th on vault (49.250), 10th on bars (49.238), 18th on beam (49.088) and 23rd on floor (49.100). The floor ranking is skewed by having to count a 9.500 and the beam ranking is skewed by having to count a 9.575, but that’s offset by the fact that the bars and vault rankings include Kiya’s incredible performances Friday. She’s done for the season, so that’s going to cause a major shift in the lineups, as is Bryce being out today.
Jay said Chase Brock was ready to vault Friday, so she’ll probably go in for Kiya. She does a Yurchenko Full, a 9.95 SV, but it can be (and will have to be for LSU to remain competitive) upgraded to a Yurchenko 1.5, a 10.0 SV. Good news fanboys, Livvy Dunne is expected to go on bars today after having been held out of the first two meets with a calf injury (also, why replace Alexis for competitive reasons). Despite looking gassed Friday night, Alyona Shchennikova will likely have to go on beam alongside Elena Arenas (who did a spectacular routine in Kiya’s spot Friday). Elena is the first alternate on floor, though Jay said it’s also possible that Chase could go there, too (perhaps to give Alyona some rest if she does beam).
To be honest, LSU probably won’t win this meet. Heck, OU might go 198, they’re very good. This meet isn’t about any of that, it’s a celebration of this team and a chance to give them the boost they need in this rough time. The climb isn’t always easy, and sometimes there are storms. The only way to get to the top is weather them by any means necessary.