LSU dropped to 1-4 and 1-2 in the SEC Friday night in a meet where they showed signs of progress. The #8 Tigers fell to the #23 Arkansas Razorbacks 197.475-197.250 in front of a sold-out Barnhill Arena. This was Arkansas’ second ever home win over LSU and the first since 2012. Despite the loss, LSU upped their average and set a new season-high for a road score (crucial for NQS). Head coach Jay Clark called it a half-step forward, which is funny because that’s basically what cost LSU the meet.
Overall meet (and why this wasn’t that bad):
I must admit that I overreacted to this meet in the moment. I was far more focused on if LSU would win than if they showed improvement, and they definitely did the latter. They scored .1 higher than they did against Missouri and they scored 197+ on the road for the first time all season. They hit 23/24 routines (excluding Aleah Finnegan’s vault), they didn’t fall anywhere, they stayed in bounds on floor and they went 49+ on every rotation.
Perhaps the problem is the optics of the loss to some people. Let me explain why that is a bad way to view this meet. First, Arkansas set a program record with a 197.475 and a home floor record with a 49.575 (whether those should’ve been that high is neither here nor there). LSU’s season high is 197.450 and came at home. Second, Arkansas was not a bad team coming in, their #23 ranking came from early struggles. They went 47.700 on bars (counted two falls) against Alabama in a meet in which they outscored the Tide on the other three events and lost by 1. They’re a deep team that’s relied on freshmen for roughly 42% of their routines this season and who had each member of their team compete at their preseason showcase (LSU didn’t do that and that wasn’t just because of injuries). Third, and I cannot stress this enough, wins and losses are not the best indicator of the quality of a gymnastics team nor do they matter in January. Despite the record, LSU is one of the top 10 teams in the country and they’re getting better in certain areas.
Bars (49.300, 6th):
This was an improvement over the bars from the Missouri meet. I had LSU scoring a 49.150 on bars on my rescore, a 0.250 improvement over my judgment of the prior meet’s rotation. Everyone except Haleigh Bryant did a better routine than they did against Missouri (hard to top what could’ve been a 10.0). Alexis Jeffrey started things off with a 9.850 (I got a 9.85). She lost points for being slightly short on her first and third handstands and for piking her chest on her HIHO landing (each a .05 deduction). She’s filled in the lead-off spot very well. Elena Arenas followed up with a 9.875 (I scored a 9.80). She hit her first handstand, went far from the bar on her Tkatchev (not sure if deduction), bent her arms to catch her pak salto (-.1), maintained her handstand on her low-bar half turn (not the best of the rotation), hit her final handstand, piked to open her double layout (DLO) and had decent leg separation in the air (total of -.1) before sticking the landing like it should. Tori Tatum followed up with the best routine of her career (despite the 9.850 on a 9.90/9.80 split). I came to a 9.85 because of a bent arm up to her first and second handstands and leg separation in her HIHO (could’ve had flexed feet in her Ray, but I never saw it), but other than that, this was great. This didn’t look like a labored routine, it looked like her at her best. She hit each handstand and absolutely killed her low-bar half turn (it was Elena-esque), then finished off with another stick. Aleah followed up with a 9.850 that I scored as a 9.75. She bent an arm going up to her first handstand (-.05), hit her piked deltchev, bent an arm going up to her second handstand (-.05), came up short on her third handstand (-.05), hit a good bail handstand, bent an arm going up to her final handstand and finished with a small step on her dismount. That weird arching on the second handstand went away; good. Alyona Shchennikova followed up with her best routine of the season, scoring a 9.875 from the judges and a 9.80 from me. She started with a good first handstand, then a good Ray, a perfect pak salto (no leg separation), a hit second handstand which she failed to maintain throughout her half turn (-.05), a hit final handstand, a better DLO form than hers against Mizzou (still taking -.15, the Mizzou DLO deserved -.2) and finished with a stick. Haleigh finished things off with a 9.850 (also got a 9.85). She hit her first handstand, did a good Jaeger, hit her second handstand, had a slight arm bend on her hit bail handstand (-.05), hit her final handstand and took a step forward on her double front half (-.1).
Overall, this was an improvement and a good step forward. Progress is the goal, so consider that a success.
Vault was the best event of the night.
Vault (49.500, 4th):
LSU set a new season high on vault despite only sticking one landing. Elena opened up with her Yurchenko Full (YF) (9.95 SV, all others are 10.0) and scored a 9.825 with a step back and an extra half hop. Alyona followed with her Yurchenko 1.5 (Y1.5) and scored a 9.875 after a big hop. Aleah followed with a 9.675, the only sub-9.700 LSU score of the night on her Omelianchik. She tried to stick it, but she underrotated it badly and took two to three steps back. Chase Brock followed up with a 9.900 on her Y1.5, losing points for taking a well-controlled step forward (and perhaps some early leg separation). KJ Johnson followed up with a perfect YF, tying for the vault title with a 9.950. She tied with Haleigh who hopped back a bit on her front handspring (FHS) pike half.
Overall, this was very solid. Chase is on the precipice of nailing her vault while KJ finally did it. Once again, there was solid progress.
Floor was solid, too.
Floor (49.300, 16th):
Before diving into this, it’s worth noting that LSU’s low floor ranking is more the result of the rest of the country being extremely strong on the event. LSU’s floor average is 49.250, a mark inside the top 15 on the other three events and top 10 on vault and beam.
Anyway, Sierra Ballard started things off with a 9.825. She underrotated her DLO and landed with a low chest, underrotated the second half of her back 1.5 to front layout (FLO) (stepped forward out of first two passes, which is atypical), hit a good switch ring, did a decent switch half and finished with a stuck double pike that landed with a low chest. Alyona followed with a 9.800 that got a 9.85/9.75 split, and this was far from her best routine. She crossed her legs on her front double full, connected that with an uncontrolled step into her arabesque, followed with a decent back 1.5 to whippy front full that lacked control on landing, was short on her switch leap, followed with a short switch half instead of the usual switch ring and finished with a good Rudi to hit split jump. She didn’t appear to think it was a great routine, and it wasn’t by the standard she’s set during her career. Chase followed up with a 9.825, showing yet more improvement. She began with a stuck double pike, followed it up with a slightly overrotated double tuck with a slide back (better than her previous underrotations on the skill), followed with a decent switch side to Popa (might not have gone the full 360) and finished with a good back 1.5 to front full with a little slide on the landing. That was her first solid floor routine. KJ followed up with a 9.875. She slid back on her full-in and nearly went out of bounds (kept her heel up to ensure she didn’t), followed with a good back 1.5 to FLO, followed with a good switch side to Popa and finished with a well-landed double tuck on which she picked up her left foot to adjust after landing (for some reason). Aleah followed with a 9.900. She stuck her double Arabian like it was nothing, connected to a stag leap, slightly underrotated her back 2.5 to front tuck (she leaned a little bit on the landing), followed with a good switch ring, took more time than expected to get to her short tour jete half and finished with a great back 1.5 to FLO. Haleigh finished the rotation with a 9.875. She stuck her double front about as well as she can, did a great FLO to Rudi, then a good back handspring (BHS), then a switch ring with no head release (thus no ring), then a good switch half and finished things off with an overpowered front double full with leg separation in the air on which she tried to hide her lack of control on the landing by dancing out of it.
Overall, it was an okay rotation by LSU’s high standards. The only person who showed marked improvement was Chase, who finally kept every pass in bounds without underrotating. LSU went into the final rotation up by .200.
Then came beam, which wasn’t terrible, but wasn’t great, either.
Beam (49.150, t-17th):
LSU had their second highest scoring beam rotation of the season, but it wasn’t enough to fend off a surging Arkansas team fueled by their crowd. Kai Rivers kicked things off with a 9.700. Her BHS LOSO ended with a slight check (stayed on her line), she followed with a perfect full turn, then leaned on her switch half, did her switch leap, paused, then balance checked on her straddle quarter (I’m not sure she got credit for the connection), and finished with a stuck round-off (RO) 1.5. The next two had a rough time, and Jay attributed that to a combination of inexperience (either this season or in general) and nerves from competing against a raucous crowd. Alyona got a 9.800 on a 9.85/9.75 split. She started with a good candle mount, then a good full turn, good BHS BHS, okay switch leap to potentially off split jump, side aerial that landed with a little wobble and finished with a BHS gainer full that landed close to the beam and appeared to have a small step (camera didn’t have everything in frame for some reason). Sierra followed up with a 9.750 on a 9.80/9.70 split. She had a bit of a landing issue with her BHS LOSO (lifted foot and wobble), did a good full turn, did a good sissonne to switch half, a good kickover front and finished with a decent RO back 1.5 with a small step forward. Sierra’s best routine was her first when she looked free and loose like she does on floor. That kind of confidence is going to get her score back up. Elena followed with a controversial 9.775, though it’s quite a defensible score. She began with a good switch leap, then was short on her split jump, then did an okay BHS LOSO on which her knees moved a smidge, then did a good front toss, then did a beautiful full turn, then did an okay switch half that was impossible to judge because of a bad camera angle and finished with a RO back 1.5 on which she hopped. If that switch half was short, it’d explain the 9.75 from one of the judges. Haleigh then stepped up to claim her fifth straight all-around crown with a 9.900. She began with a good front aerial to BHS, then had a bit of a wobble on her switch leap, connected it well to her straddle quarter, checked on her full turn, did a good standing front tuck on which she used her arms to avoid a deduction, hit a good split jump and finished with a stuck Rudi dismount. Though the meet was out of reach, Aleah finished things off strong with an event-title-winning 9.925. She started with a good candle mount half, then hit her BHS LO LOSO very well, then hit a good switch leap, then wobbled on her split jump (one of her easiest skills), checked on her full turn, hit a good front aerial and finished off with a gainer full that had a very slight hop.
The dismounts were the most important thing they need to fix. LSU stuck just two beam dismounts to Arkansas’ five, and only one of LSU’s stuck beam dismounts came on a counted score (the other was Kai’s). By my estimation of how much judges would take for the non-sticks (some -.05, some -.1), LSU lost roughly .25 by not sticking their dismounts, the exact amount needed to win the meet (margin of defeat was .225).
Overall, they’re showing signs of improvement and they all stayed on. Beam is a mental event more than anything, and they best beam rotation came against Oklahoma when they were playing with house money and acting like it. I’m not worried about beam just yet, but this pattern has to stop in the next couple weeks.
This loss did nothing in the grand scheme of things to impact the team’s chances at achieving their goals. Now it’s back home to face Georgia, a team that’s not as bad as it was last season. They’ll meet in the PMAC Friday at 8:00 p.m. as LSU looks to get back in the win column against a team against which they’ve had recent success.