LSU put up yet another strong performance Friday night, yet they fell to 2-5 and 2-3 in the SEC in a 197.750-197.500 loss to #5 Auburn in front of an electric Neville Arena crowd. LSU set a season high for a road meet with a very solid road score that they wouldn’t mind keeping in their NQS, especially with only three road meets left (Alabama, Purple and Gold Podium Challenge, and SECs). This isn’t going to be as in-depth a recap, I think pointing out each deduction is a bit too much and takes away from what happened.
The historical context behind Aleah’s amazing night
The most talked about thing from this meet has been the performance of the Filipina Phenom herself, Aleah Finnegan, who won the all-around title outright with a 39.800 (highest by an LSU gymnast since 2019), snapping Haleigh Bryant’s streak of six straight meets with at least a share of the AA title. She is just the fifth gymnast in LSU history with a 39.800+ AA meet, joining April Burkholder, Ashleigh Clare-Kearney, Rheagan Courville and Sarah Finnegan. She tied for the event title on floor and beam and won it outright on vault with the second 10 of her career, a shocker considering she was in the third spot in the lineup. The last time LSU had a 10 on any event before the last two spots was Kennedi Edney’s floor 10 versus Oregon State in 2019 in the fourth spot and the last time that happened on vault was in Jessie Jordan’s in the three spot in 2015 versus Minnesota. Aleah became the first LSU gymnast to get a 10 in consecutive meets since Sarah Finnegan did so in 2019 (bars 10 at Arizona, floor 10 at SECs). This was just the second 39.800 by an LSU gymnast in a meet held outside the state of Louisiana, the other being April Burkholder’s 39.825 at Oklahoma in 2005. She is the first LSU gymnast with two AA titles in road meets against top-10 teams since Jessie Jordan did so in 2014. Best of all, the vault 10 completed the Finnegan gym slam since Sarah competed a Yurchenko Full (and didn’t score a perfect 9.950 until her senior year), a moment Sarah was able to experience in person after not being in attendance for Aleah’s first 10 against Georgia.
Bars was not as good as it had been in weeks past (note, no rescore this time). Alexis Jeffrey kicked things off with her first sub-9.800 routine in her NCAA career with a 9.675 that got hit thanks to a squatty half-in-half-out landing and a poor half turn sequence. Ashley Cowan made her NCAA debut in place of Elena Arenas after a tweaked shoulder had messed with her head and caused her to overarch her pak salto. She scored a 9.775 on a 9.85/9.70 split with a routine that was quite good. Her double layout (DLO) has textbook form and lays out properly, but she couldn’t stick it. That was actually one big problem, it took until Alyona Shchennikova for someone to stick their dismount. Tori Tatum followed Ashley with a 9.850 that was much improved from last week; it was strong instead of labored. Aleah followed up with a 9.875 that looked very good until she slowed down a bit during her final handstand and overrotated her double Arabian dismount. Alyona came in to bring in some sticks and begin perhaps the best night of her career, going 9.825 for a routine that in other places, could’ve gone 9.875. Perhaps the judges deducted for her dismount form, a DLO that she stuck. Bart Conner said she’s not known for sticking landings, something that’s unnecessary to say. Haleigh Bryant finished things off by tying her career high on bars with a 9.950 that honestly could’ve been a 10, the only deduction was for flexed feet in her double front half dismount.
Overall, it’s about sticking those landings, everything else was quite good.
This was a tale of two halves for the vault lineup. The first half was strong while the second half struggled. Elena led off with a 9.800 that had many scratching their heads looking for the extra .05 deduction (leg separation in the air). Alyona followed up with the second best vault of her career on a stuck (step back to salute) Yurchenko 1.5 (Y1.5) for a 9.925. Aleah followed up with a 10, as mentioned earlier. After that, they seemed to struggle being themselves. Chase Brock followed up with a 9.700 on a squatty, underrotated Y1.5 with a step back. KJ Johnson followed up with a 9.725 on her Yurchenko Full that had a blatant blocking deduction (hands way in front of head) that she adjusted for rather well despite taking a step back. Haleigh finished up with a 9.900 on a 9.95/9.85 split. She nearly missed the vault table, had the least amount of amplitude I’ve seen her get on a vault and stepped out to salute. Head coach Jay Clark said she had a rough meet, and that was clearest here.
Overall, this was the best performance by Alyona and Aleah on vault all season, the back half (especially Chase and KJ) just needs to avoid getting caught up in the moment if Aleah gets another 10 in that spot.
This was a very good rotation and a new floor season high for a road meet. Unlike last time, all six gymnasts hit. Sierra Ballard kicked things off with a 9.825 that lost some points for small control issues and a low chest on her final pass. Alyona followed up with one of the best floor routines she’s ever done and a legit 9.925. Her Rudi to split jump had the least travel of any she’s done all year, but that forced her to push her chest out to control the landing. Chase followed with a 9.775 on a 9.85/9.70 split. She underdid her double pike, overdid her double tuck (flew back) and hit her back 1.5 to front better than she has any other time. If she’s to continue improving, she has to let go of the negatives (looked down on herself when talking with Courtney McCool Griffeth). KJ followed with a solid 9.875 on which she hit each pass but lacked some control (small slide on full-in and big slide on double tuck). Aleah followed with a 9.975 that was oh so close to being a 10. She improved on the connection from her double Arabian to stag leap and the middle of the routine was just as quality as her 10, but she slid a bit out of her back 1.5 to front layout enough that one judge was willing to take. Haleigh finished up with a 9.850 on which she looked tired. Her front double front had less amplitude than usual and she hopped back on the landing, odd for someone as powerful as her, and her front double full finished with a lunge back because of underrotation.
Overall, this was decent and showed some growth. Alyona killed it and Chase hit her passes while Aleah kept hitting at the level she should (perhaps the highest in the NCAA).
Beam (49.425, new season high)
This was the beam team LSU had all along, and it’s quite shocking to see it arrive in a hostile environment. The timidity they showed at Arkansas was gone and replaced by an attacking mindset. Perhaps a shakeup to the lineup helped out. Elena led off in place of Kai Rivers, who’d been having some difficulty in that spot, with a 9.750 on a routine with some iffy splits and a step on her round-off (RO) back 1.5. She never wobbled or bobbled, and that was crucial for setting the tone. Alyona followed up with a 9.850 that had a couple bobbles but finished with a powerfully stuck BHS gainer full. Kai came up next having been alleviated of the pressure of leading off and looked back in vintage form with a 9.900. The only big issue came on her switch half, which was neither a 180 degree split nor turn, but she had this look by the end that reflected the confidence that earned her the lead spot initially. Sierra followed up with a 9.825, tying her career high. She made a couple mid-air corrections and overdid her RO back 1.5, but she showed great fight. Haleigh put up a 9.900 in the penultimate spot, hitting the majority of her routine except for her standing front tuck, on which she leaned and attempted to cover. Aleah finished her incredible night with a 9.950 that would’ve been a 10 had she stuck her gainer full without having to move her chest.
Overall, this was a very positive sign. It seems like the Arkansas meet taught them how to deal with road crowds while the lineup changes seemed to benefit confidence. This has to be the launching pad for the rest of the season.
For the all-arounders, Aleah absolutely killed it, but that’s been discussed to death. Alyona tied her AA career high with a 39.525 thanks to strong performances on vault and floor. Haleigh went 39.600, but she had some uncharacteristic mistakes.
As for the team, they showed more progress and confidence, but they need to harness that energy for the next meet. Florida will be the toughest test they’ll face and they’ll have to climb high knock off the queens of the mountain.