LSU got in the win column for the first time this season Friday night despite some miscues. The #9 Tigers beat the #12 Tigers of Missouri 197.150-196.525 in the 600th meet ever held in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. LSU moved to 17-0 all-time at home against Mizzou and picked up a much-needed SEC win. Also, I have some things to say about the bars scoring, hoo boy.
Even though LSU failed to improve upon the 197.450 they scored against Oklahoma, they showed a good fight and great control on the landings. This meet had more sticks than any other this season, a great sign that things are improving. There were some signs of fatigue, but it’s to be expected with a packed early schedule and classes restarting that week. The best thing to take away from some of the bigger mistakes is that they came in the pursuit of perfection. It’s still decently early in the season and it’s entirely possible that LSU drops these first four meets from their NQS. Also, it’s a win, that’s always nice.
Vault (49.475, 5th):
This was very good again. The rotation began with Elena Arenas scoring a 9.825 on her hopped-back Yurchenko Full (YF). Alyona Shchennikova followed up with a 9.875 on a Yurchenko 1.5 (Y1.5) that had a large step forward on the landing. Chase Brock followed up with another Y1.5, just her second in competition since she was about 11 or 12 years old. She did a better vault than she did last week, scoring a 9.850 with an overrotated vault that had leg separation in the air and a big step forward on the landing (did a good job making the correction needed to increase her score). KJ Johnson was next with her YF and hit it better than she had all year, sticking a 9.900 with her left foot on the right guideline (there’s no standard for how to deduct for direction, just “up to 0.30”). Aleah Finnegan followed up with her Omelianchik that scored a 9.850 with a small step forward (looked like her other 9.850s). Finally there was Haleigh Bryant’s front handspring (FHS) pike half. It looked like her feet lifted up and moved slightly backward on the slow-motion replay, but the judges and the near-12,000 strong in the PMAC saw a stick. If it sticks, it must be a 10.0, and it was. This was Haleigh’s sixth 10 of her career, all of which have come on vault. She is now tied for 6th most 10s in school history with Sarah Finnegan and in sole possession of second most vault tens, trailing Jennifer Wood, who had nine in her career (the school record for all events).
Overall, this was pretty good. Most of the people who went need to find their sticks (especially Aleah, her Ome should get a 10 if it sticks) because it’s a 0.1 deduction whenever there’s a hop or a step. Oklahoma is famous for having the stickiest vault rotation in the country, and they run six 10.0 vaults compared to LSU’s four.
Bars also got a solid score. Was that accurate?
Bars (49.425, 7th):
This was a fantastic bars rotation for LSU. For the first time all year, more than half the dismounts stuck properly. One thing that got a lot of attention during the Oklahoma meet was the scoring of LSU’s bars rotation. College Gym News ran a column in which former NCAA women’s gymnastics judge Rhiannon Franck rescored LSU’s 49.450 rotation and came to a score of 48.950. I thought LSU was the beneficiary of loose bars scoring last season and it appears that’s kept on going this season.
I’m no expert, but I have a keen eye for when other people make small mistakes, so I decided to try my hand at rescoring each routine for this meet while not accounting for any leg separation deductions on in-bar moves because judges have a hard time seeing those. I didn’t take for flexed feet but twice (both on Rays) and I still came to a final team score of 48.900. If judges did their jobs properly, this wouldn’t be such an issue. If the judges took 0.05 per bent arm on top of the bar on counted routines (Alyona’s score got dropped), they would’ve taken at least 12 from my count. That would’ve seen LSU finish with a score of 49.400 and that doesn’t begin to get into the myriad of other deductions. This is a sport about execution and difficulty, but college gymnastics is supposed to reward execution much more than difficulty. When judges fail to do their jobs properly, it does a disservice to the athletes (especially those at schools who don’t benefit from blatant leotard bias), it does a disservice to the coaches who think they can get away with not trying to work on certain things early on to break habits or fix issues and it does a disservice to the fans who get a false sense of what constitutes a routine worthy of being close to a 10. This kind of stuff happens to home teams far too often and it could cost LSU later (disregard the blatant overscoring on the bars rotation at Kentucky).
Alexis Jeffrey led off the bars rotation with a 9.925 (enough to earn the event title). She was battling a shoulder injury all week and Ashley Cowan was set to take her place until the injury miraculously cleared up the morning of the meet and Alexis warmed up well. Her half-in-half-out (HIHO) dismount was the best she’s ever competed and she hit every handstand, but I scored this as a 9.80 (could’ve gone 9.75 had I taken for leg separation in the pak salto) because of four bent arms (bent both to catch her pak salto). It was a solid routine even with the extra deductions because a properly judged 9.800 is hard to do, especially as a lead. Elena followed up with a 9.850 routine that was okay until the dismount. I had this routine as a 9.70 (9.65 if I took for leg sep in pak salto). She hit her handstands well, but it looked like she was off after her tkatchev. She bent her arms to catch her pak salto and did a substandard half turn by her incredible standards, then finished off with a double layout (DLO) that piked to open (I could’ve gone -.1 like Franck, but I went -.05), had noticeable leg separation in the air and hopped back at the end (-.1). The landing is the easiest part to fix, but the things before are tough (and almost never taken). Tori Tatum followed up with another hit routine with her 9.900. I had it at a 9.75, but it only had one arm bend (improvement). She was a tad short on her first handstand (-.05) and flexed her feet on her Ray, but she hit a good pak salto. She followed up with her low bar half turn that wasn’t a handstand throughout, hit her final handstand and stuck her HIHO after separating her legs in the air. This looked better than the one against OU, she just needs to keep polishing it. Aleah followed up with a 9.850 that was, in all honesty, not one of her better routines. I had this as a 9.65 and a 9.75 on arm bends alone. She hit her first handstand and her piked deltchev, but when she hit the top of her second handstand, she overdid it (-.1). Her bail handstand was good, although she arched her back a good bit. The routine ended with a perfectly stuck Fontaine and was decent, but those arm bends would be killer if the judges were doing their jobs properly. Alyona went next with a 9.775, the score LSU ended up dropping. I had her routine at a 9.55 and that was generous (everyone has their off days, get them out now). She hit her first handstand, but she flexed her feet on her Ray, bent an arm going up to her low bar half turn, failed to maintain handstand position throughout and looked slightly short on her final handstand. Her dismount has been subject to ridicule since before she arrived at LSU and I took a -.15 deduction for what happened in the air because despite it being a double layout (laying out, like a line), it pikes and whips. Finally, she had to step out of her landing in order to salute (-.1). Haleigh finished things off with a 9.900 that looked like the best routine of the night by either team. I saw no deductions, but it wasn’t as good as her routine at Florida last season (still think that was a 10.0). Still, she hit every handstand without arm bends, her jaeger was good and her double front half was unreal.
Overall, despite my numerous complaints about overscoring, the actual rotation itself was solid. The landings were really good, and the handstands were decent. The most important thing is getting consistent.
Then there was beam.
Beam (48.950, 18th):
LSU entered the second half of the meet with a .6 lead. This was a rough rotation from the start, but hopefully this is a learning experience. Kai Rivers led off with a 9.175. Her back handspring (BHS) LOSO was off line and finished with her right foot nearly off the beam. That threw off the entire routine and when she landed her straddle quarter, she missed the sweet spot and fell. She immediately got back up and finished the routine with a stuck round off (RO) double full, but it put a bunch of pressure on the rest of the lineup as that lead was far from safe. Alyona made her beam debut this season, taking KJ’s place in the lineup to get some pressure off her (she hits her side aerial to sissonne connection in the gym, but has struggled to do so in competition). She scored a 9.700 with a 9.80/9.60 judge split on a routine that somehow had a 10.0 start value. Her candle mount and full turn were superb, but her across series looked disconnected. She had to do a balance check on her front aerial before going into her BHS BHS (which also had a balance check) and had to reset her arm movement (not fluid motion, shouldn’t have counted). Her switch leap to switch jump was good, she balance checked her side aerial and she stuck her gainer full well. Sierra Ballard followed up with a 9.650 on a 9.75/9.55 split. She had a slight balance check on her BHS LOSO, balance check on her full turn, good sissonne to switch leap half (best sissonne of the season), big balance check on her kickover front and a great RO 1.5 with a big stick. It looked like she rushed through the routine a bit and that’s where the issues arose, but give her tremendous props for doing a good routine (her second on beam in her college career) under tremendous pressure. Elena followed up with a 9.750 that got hit hard on the landing. Her switch leap to split jump was good, followed by a BHS LOSO with a slight check, a good front toss, beautiful full turn (she’s a pirouette princess) and good switch leap half. Unfortunately, she underrotated her RO 1.5 and took two small steps on the landing (perhaps lost her .2). Haleigh followed up with a 9.900 that probably lost points for flexed feet like her bars did. She did a good front aerial to BHS, good switch leap to straddle quarter, good full turn, powerful standing front tuck, good split jump and good standing punch rudi dismount that had some leg separation in the air but still stuck. That was a good set-up for Aleah’s incredible event-title-winning 9.950, a new beam career high. She hit her candle mount half well, absolutely crushed her BHS LO LOSO, hit her switch leap, came up just short on her split jump (the only deduction), nailed her full turn, nailed her front aerial and finished things off with a stuck gainer full with a perfect chest, her first perfect beam dismount.
Overall, this was a rough rotation, but the team bounced back well. They have to learn how to fight through adversity, especially those with less experience this season (Alyona and Sierra). They got thrown straight into the fire and survived, which is always a good sign.
They finished things out with a decent floor rotation.
Floor (49.300, 16th):
This rotation had an uncharacteristic mistake and some overcorrections, but it’s fine considering it was the third meet in 11 days. Sierra started things off with a 9.850. She kicked things off with a very well controlled DLO, then hit a good 1.5 to front layout (FLO) to stag jump, then hit a good switch ring, then looked short on her switch half to knee (that “to knee” part could be why), then finished with a double pike that looked less controlled than at other times. Alyona followed with a 9.875. She did a better front double full to arabesque (still jittery), nailed her 1.5 FLO, did a decent switch leap, followed with a poor switch ring due to no head release (head doesn’t go back to her foot to complete the ring) and ended with a good FHS rudi to split jump. It was a solid routine. Chase followed up with a 9.700 that had Missouri head coach Shannon Welker asking the meet referee for an explanation (rightfully so, in my opinion). She took two steps back on her double pike and went out of bounds, then overrotated her double tuck and took a step forward, then had decent Popas and then finished with a good FLO front full, hitting the pass she sat against OU. Those steps would’ve had her at 9.700 without the .1 deduction for going out of bounds, so yeah. Still, it’s great to see her make adjustments to try and correct the issues from her last time out. Hopefully the hard work pays off in due time. KJ followed up with a 9.925. She nearly went out on her full-in, but she adjusted as she landed and took a small step instead of a big one (still lacked a bit of control and was probably at -.1 in deductions). She followed up with a beautiful back 1.5 to FLO, hit her leap series really well and finished things off with a great double tuck. She looked extremely confident throughout the meet and showed off the incredible fire she showed last season. Aleah followed up with one of the best 9.375s in LSU history (let me explain). She opened her double Arabian too early and sat it, but she got right back up and shook it off to move on. She absolutely nailed her 2.5 to front punch (perfect rotation), hit her switch ring and tour jete and finished things off with a great back 1.5 to FLO. Had she hit her first pass, she would’ve gotten a 10.0, I’m sure of it. Haleigh finished things off by winning her second event title of the night and fourth all-around title of the season with a 9.950. The TV broadcast ended before they could announce her score got bumped up from a 9.900 after an inquiry because one of the judges missed her BHS (gave her a 0.1 UTL deduction for not having back tumbling, realized the mistake and tried to correct it, but had already written it down thus requiring a formal inquiry). She didn’t control her double front well, followed by a good FLO to rudi, followed by a bad switch ring (no head release to complete the ring), followed by a decent switch half, followed by a good BHS and finished with a well-controlled front double twist. Thanks to her AA score of 39.750, she tied Auburn last-year sophomore Suni Lee for the honor of SEC Gymnast of the Week.
Overall, scoring a 49.300 while counting a 9.700 is very good, as was the progress made. KJ threw out a great performance that had been missing the first three meets, Chase stayed up on all three passes and Haleigh controlled her final pass better.
This was a good team win aided by Missouri’s first sub-49.000 beam rotation in 22 meets (LSU locked up the win during Haleigh’s routine). The season stays on Friday nights until SECs, thankfully, so no more worries about short rest. Speaking of rest, Haleigh and Aleah are going to get an extra day of rest following Friday’s meet at Arkansas at 8:00 p.m. on SEC Network. This is a team stretched to its limits and there’s not as much depth as in years past. Still, this is a very capable team that is still working their way up to the top of the mountain.