LSU bounced back well from a rough meet in Lexington in their home opener Monday afternoon. Though the #13 Tigers fell to the #1 Oklahoma Sooners 197.600-197.450, they set a season high on short notice and looked determined. Despite it being a Monday afternoon meet, the crowd was incredible. The official attendance was 12,065, the 13th-largest in program history and largest for a home opener. The team fed off that energy to fuel a strong performance even if the loss dropped them to 0-3 (wins and losses don’t matter as much as overall score). For some reason, this meet counts towards the same week as the Missouri meet, meaning nothing has changed officially with LSU’s event rankings. Also, note my complaints about judging are not a slight against the athletes, it isn’t their fault the officials aren’t doing their jobs correctly.
Give credit to this team, they showed up and looked fired up to compete in this meet. They had a team meeting the day before to talk about their goals and what they wanted from this meet. They came in believing they could win and came very close to it, but their effort needs to be a springboard. Three people made their event debuts, two made their season debuts and one made their career debut. Each one did decently well filling in spots left by injuries to Kiya Johnson, Bryce Wilson and Livvy Dunne.
Oh yeah, in case you didn’t hear, Livvy’s out two weeks with a stress reaction in her left foot diagnosed Sunday. Bars depth is as thin as can get at this point. Anyway, moving on to the events themselves.
This wasn’t a bad score, especially considering nobody stuck a landing (ugh). Elena Arenas’ Yurchenko Full (YF) led the scoring with a 9.775 thanks to some leg separation and a hop back. Alyona Shchennikova followed with a good Yurchenko 1.5 (Y1.5) that scored a 9.875 because of a squatted landing and a slight slide back. Chase Brock made her season debut and first appearance since 2021 National Semifinals with a Y1.5 of her own (I expected a YF) that she nearly stuck, scoring a 9.800 because of it was underrotated and required her to step back. KJ Johnson followed with her YF, scoring a 9.875 with a slight step back (also a bit off to the side). Aleah Finnegan corrected her issue from the last meet on her Omelianchik and scored a 9.850 with a step forward (it looked like the 9.850 she got at Utah). Haleigh Bryant anchored the rotation with a 9.925 on her front handspring (FHS) pike half, taking a similar hop back to the one that earned her a 9.900 in Lexington.
Overall, they still need to stick their landings, but they’ve done a good job with centering their vaults on the mat. KJ was the only one where I thought the judges could’ve taken a slight directional deduction. Bars went well, too.
49.450 was too high a rotation score for the routines competed. That said, OU got overscored to high heaven on floor in the next rotation, so things evened out. Alexis Jeffrey took the lead-off spot left by Kiya’s injury and got things started with a very solid and deserved 9.800, losing points from leg separation on her pak salto and a hop back on her half-in-half-out (HIHO). Elena followed with a 9.875 that had three points of deduction that are very consistent: leg separation on her pak salto, leg separation in the air during her double layout (DLO) and hop on her landing. Tori Tatum made her career debut with a labored routine that went 9.875 despite her missing her first handstand, having leg separation on her pak salto, her poor low bar half turn, missing her final handstand and sliding her left foot a smidge on her HIHO (this should’ve been sub-9.800). Aleah followed up with a bars career-high 9.925, only losing points for going over on her bail handstand (on the low bar) and for having to swing her arms to keep the landing on her Fontaine (landed on the front of her feet and had to step out to salute, too). Alyona got a 9.875 for a routine that, once again, got massively overscored. There is no way a routine with a missed first handstand, low Ray, poor low bar half turn, DLO like that (the judges should be taking for form errors, layouts shouldn’t pike) and step out on salute should score a 9.875 (when judges do their jobs, the sport is better). Finally, Haleigh anchored with a well-earned 9.900, only losing points by way overdoing her bail handstand.
Overall, judges need to do a better job of judging, but these routines were hard-fought and the majority were executed better than expected for short rest. Beam was very good, too.
This is a better beam squad than last year from a toughness perspective. Even when they might fall off, they pull it back and keep going, it’s awesome. Kai Rivers started things off with a 9.800 (9.85/9.75 split). She lost points on a balance check after her (short) switch half and for stepping and swinging her arms on her round off (RO) double full, but she absolutely nailed her BHS LOSO. Sierra Ballard made her beam debut with a 9.825. She had to save the ending on her BHS LOSO (balance check), looked short on her sissonne (by the way, that’s meant to be 180 degrees at a 45 degree angle somehow) and underrotated her RO 1.5 (step back, too), but she nailed her front toss and looked so incredible during it. KJ followed up with a 9.750. She had to adjust her foot on her BHS LOSO (noticed this was a problem, it was the same foot she lifted up on her final pass at Kentucky) and hopped on her BHS 1.5 dismount, but the biggest score killer came on her side aerial to sissonne series because she paused in between skills and lost the connection value (routine began from a 9.90, not a 10.0). Elena did another hit beam routine (seriously out of nowhere with her, loving it), scoring a 9.875 on one that was very good save for a low landing on her front toss (hips at knee level, 0.1) and lost toe point on her switch half (other than that, phenomenal). Haleigh followed up with another 9.950 on beam following the one from Friday that was a slide back on her dismount away from being a 10.0 (maybe, also slight balance check on straddle quarter that wasn’t deducted). Aleah finished things off with a 9.775 (9.85/9.70 split) that should’ve been lower (9.85 is a joke). Her BHS LO LOSO triple series is to die for and she was good for most of the routine (side step on gainer full dismount was the other issue), but she somehow landed her split jump on the corner of the beam and had a major wobble.
Overall, this was a good result that could’ve been even better if that fluke wobble didn’t happen. It was tough having to replace another beam routine, but they showed their fight. LSU finished strong on floor.
At least this wasn’t as overscored as OU’s floor rotation (Ragan Smith 9.925 was very questionable). In all seriousness, this was classic LSU floor difficulty and execution in motion. Sierra started off with a 9.900 that could’ve scored higher. She hit all three of her passes very well, and the only issue I noticed was on her switch half that looked just short. That routine had the building rocking thanks to the energy she brings to every routine (impossible not to love). Alyona followed up with a 9.925 that was slightly better than her routine from the Kentucky meet. The biggest improvement was with her middle pass, a 1.5 front layout (FLO) that hit with power and sent the crowd to the loudest roar of the afternoon. Her expression on her FHS rudi split jump said it all, and this tied her career high on floor. Chase made her career debut on floor with a routine that looked good until the end. She lacked control on her first two passes, but her Popas were superb. Unfortunately, she couldn’t get enough punch off the floor during her final pass and sat it, finishing with a 9.150 (9.20/9.10 split). KJ followed up with a 9.775. Her full-in flew too far in the air and landed with a step out of bounds, but she brought it back with a good back 1.5 to FLO. She had to adjust her foot on her double tuck, and for some odd reason, she couldn’t get much bounce on her front tumble thing at the end of her routine (it looked like there wasn’t any spring). Aleah followed up with her second 9.950 on floor in her career. If Ragan Smith’s was a 9.925, this was a 10. The only issue with this routine came when she slightly underrotated her front tuck (it was noticeable), but it was perfect otherwise. Turns out it wasn’t fatigue that hurt her on her routine at Kentucky, it was overadjustment (she most likely underrotated her double Arabian to compensate for overrotations during warm-ups). Haleigh finished things off by winning the all-around with a 9.900. She had a bigger step than usual out of her FHS double front and tried to cover a big step out of her FHS front double full with a dance element (emphasis on tried), but she nailed her leap series.
Overall, this was a good floor rotation save for the out of bounds and the fluky dead jump on Chase’s final pass.
The Tigers should be proud of their ability to come back from an emotional meet on such short notice and put up a strong performance. The crowd helped fuel them and uncharacteristic Oklahoma mistakes made the meet closer than it might’ve been on a normal day, but this was a good springboard. They showed they can weather the storm during their climb, but the next step is the first win of the season. They’ll be looking for it Friday night when they host #12 Missouri.