LSU looks for a massive upset at home.
The #8 Tigers face perhaps their toughest foe of the season tonight, especially considering the timing. Last week, LSU fell 197.750-197.500 to #5 Auburn in front of an electric Neville Arena crowd. Tonight, they face the #2 Florida Gators in the penultimate PMAC meet of the season. The arena opens at 6:30 p.m., team intros begin at 7:51 and first vault is set for 8:05. The local Krewe of Southdowns parade rolls at 7:00, so check the route and plan accordingly. The meet is also being broadcast on ESPN2.
LSU vs Florida history:
LSU is 42-75 in all competitions against Florida and 16-12 at home. The last time these two teams met on the same floor was at the evening session of the 2022 SEC Championship, a championship Florida ended up winning over everyone. The last time LSU and Florida met on the same floor was in 2022 when Florida beat LSU at the O Dome 198.150-197.825. The 2021 meet between these two teams was the most recent in the PMAC and an all-time classic with more 9.900+ scores than not in a 198.150-198.050 Florida victory.
Florida is coming off a season in which they had a hand on the national championship trophy before letting it slip from their grasp. They won the SEC title, but finished 2nd at Nationals to Oklahoma after the Sooners mounted a furious comeback to go from last to first.
The Gators lost four members of last year’s team. Two fifth-year seniors, Beam/floor specialist Alyssa Baumann and all-arounder Megan Skaggs, graduated, current junior Gabby Gallentine transferred to Penn State and vault/floor specialist Nya Reed announced she was taking her fifth year before not for reasons not made public. They brought in two transfers who are both from Georgia: fifth-year senior floor specialist Rachel Baumann (Alyssa’s sister) and junior bars specialist that’s come in on beam and floor Victoria Nguyen. They added two freshmen, but the one that’ll get the most attention is all-arounder Kayla DiCello. She’s won SEC Freshman of the Week four times (out of a possible six) and won the last two in a row. She got her first career 10.0 (mhm) on bars last week.
DiCello is one of Florida’s three superstar all-arounders, the others being sophomore Leanne Wong, a member of the 2022 U.S. National Team that won gold at Worlds, and fifth-year senior Trinity Thomas, the reigning SEC Gymnast of the Week following her 39.825 AA performance that saw her score a 10.0 on beam despite her public admission that she didn’t deserve it since she took a step on her landing (her floor went 9.975 and was a legit 10-worthy performance). Thomas is four 10s away from tying the NCAA career record of 28.
Florida’s 8-0 overall and 5-0 in SEC. They’re coming off a 198.350-196.625 home win over Missouri. They rank 5th on vault (49.321), 1st on bars (49.575), 2nd on beam (49.488) and 4th on floor (49.454). They are possibly the deepest team in NCAA history with multiple World Champions and enough talent on some events to run two full lineups. They’ve seen issues with consistency and have made just two road trips all year.
Head coach Jenny Rowland is in her 8th season as head coach having won everything except for a national title. She coaches beam. Adrian Burde is the associate head coach, a position to which he was elevated this past offseason. He leads recruiting and coaches vault and has been on that event since 2011. Owen Field rounds out the paid coaching staff, having been the bars coach since 2016. Volunteer assistant coach Jeremy Miranda is in his 16th season with the program, and he handles choreography duties.
Florida will clinch a share of the SEC regular season title with a win, but they can clinch it outright depending on the result of the Arkansas at Kentucky meet that begins at 7:30. Kentucky is 3-1 in the SEC. A Kentucky loss means that Florida can clinch the title outright with at least a tie, but any other result for the Wildcats prevents that. Florida is 27-0-1 in their last 28 SEC regular season meets, hasn’t lost an SEC meet since 2019 and hasn’t lost an SEC road meet since 2018.
LSU comes into this meet ranked 3rd on vault (39.375, up 1 spot from last week), 9th on bars (49.318, down 1 spot from last week), 14th on beam (49.168, up 3 spots from last week) and 11th on floor (49.339, up 1 spot from last week).
Head coach Jay Clark noted that both Bryce Wilson and Livvy Dunne are full-go for this meet, it’s just a matter of putting them in. Livvy came close to making the lineup last week, but her performance at the weekly intrasquad was poor enough to prevent that. As has been the case recently, Haleigh Bryant, Aleah Finnegan and Alyona Shchennikova are set to compete in the all-around.
LSU will begin the meet on vault with a projected lineup of Elena Arenas (9.95 SV), Alyona, Aleah, Chase Brock, KJ Johnson (9.95 SV), Haleigh with Bryce (9.95 SV) listed as the alternate. The projected lineup for bars is Alexis Jeffrey, Elena, Tori Tatum, Aleah, Alyona, Haleigh with Ashley Cowan listed as alternate and potential for Livvy. On beam, the projected lineup is Elena, Alyona, Kai Rivers, Sierra Ballard, Haleigh, Aleah with KJ listed as alternate (she almost made the lineup last week) and potential for Bryce. On floor, the projected lineup is Sierra, Alyona, Chase, KJ, Aleah, Haleigh with Elena listed as the alternate.
Aleah has scored a 10.0 in consecutive meets, the first time an LSU gymnast has done so since Sarah Finnegan in 2019. The last time someone did so in three straight meets was in 2017, when current assistant Ashleigh Gnat scored three straight floor 10s.
This meet will be crucial for both teams because next week, all rankings will be based on NQS. LSU has a calculable NQS since they’ve competed in at least three road meets. It currently sits at 197.225 and can’t go lower. LSU will look to drop the 197.150 they scored vs Missouri and can max out at 197.335 with a 197.700 or better. If they wish to knock off Florida, they might need to climb just a bit higher than that. It’ll be a tough task, but they have the home crowd behind them and the talent to do it if Florida has an off meet.