LSU looks to keep pushing as the climb gets ever more treacherous.
The #8 Tigers travel to face a tough opponent hitting their stride at the right time. Last week, LSU pulled off a massive upset of #2 Florida 198.100-197.975 behind the backing of an incredible PMAC crowd. Tonight, they face the #9 Alabama Crimson Tide at Coleman Coliseum in the final SEC meet of the regular season. The meet will be streamed on SEC Network+ beginning at 7:00 p.m. Just as a reminder, SEC Network+ is not part of ESPN+, you access it on your device by signing in with your TV/streaming provider as long as you have SEC Network with your package.
The Hits Keep Coming
LSU beating Florida should’ve been the catalyst for a late-season surge to the top after the rocky start to the season. After the meet concluded, the gymnasts ran over to the student section to sing the alma mater. In the course of singing the hymn, KJ Johnson got knocked off a mat she was standing on and rolled her ankle. Scans later revealed she’d broken the fifth metatarsal in her left foot (likely an avulsion fracture) which head coach Jay Clark said would keep her out of lineups for six weeks at the very earliest, a timeframe that would allow her to return by regionals (unlikely this even happens). This is on top of a groin injury Alyona Shchennikova’s had since the week of the Florida meet. She rested for three days prior to the meet, but the muscle was swelling after the meet. This injury flares up during her leap series on beam and floor, but it doesn’t flare up in middle splits like her Ray.
Those injuries have forced LSU to make some lineup changes as I’ll discuss in a moment.
LSU at Alabama History
LSU is 30-101-2 in all competitions against Alabama and 5-26 on the road. The last time these two teams met on the same floor was at the evening session of the 2022 SEC Championship at which Alabama outscored LSU 197.825-196.725. The last time these two teams met in the regular season was also in 2022 in a 198.050-197.600 LSU home victory in which Kiya Johnson scored a beam 10 in a meet the Tigers ended early by pulling Kiya from the final floor spot since they had a favorable result.
Alabama is coming off a season in which they finished 2nd at SECs and 7th overall. They finished behind Auburn in the final national standings for the first time ever, which wasn’t great.
The Tide lost four members of last year’s team, most notably vault/beam/floor specialist Lexi Graber and vault specialist Kaylee Quinn. They retained two fifth-year seniors, but it’s more likely that vault/floor specialist Shallon Olsen will compete than Sania Mitchell. They added six freshmen, with the most noteworthy being Gabby Gladieux who’s done vault, beam and floor in each meet.
Alabama has used two all-arounders in the past two meets and they might be the most talented members of the team. Senior Luisa Blanco has been a mainstay throughout her career and is most famous for her beam work, especially considering she won the 2021 NCAA beam championship. She hasn’t scored below 9.900 on a routine in the past two meets. The other all-arounder to watch out for is sophomore Lilly Hudson who’s competed 28 of a possible 28 routines. Her best events are beam and floor, but she’s only ranked in the top 50 on beam.
The Tide are 6-3 overall and 4-2 in the SEC. They’re coming off a 197.525-197.325 win at Georgia and have been doing the classic Alabama thing where they start off slow and then ramp it up by the end of the season. All event rankings are based on NQS just like the overall team rankings. Alabama is t-12th on vault (49.240), t-9th on bars (49.340), t-8th with two other teams on beam (49.290) and t-6th with two other teams on floor (49.410). They’re at home, they don’t have nearly the injury concerns LSU has and they’re settling into a groove considering they went 198.000 at Metroplex two weeks ago.
Alabama has a new head coach this year after the unexpected resignation of Dana Duckworth. The Tide another former Alabama gymnast to take the spot previously occupied by a former Bama gymnast when they hired Auburn beam coach Ashley Johnston. Gina Quinlan is in her second season as assistant coach with the Tide, herself a former Bama gymnast, and coaches bars. Justin Spring is in his first season with Alabama. He was the head coach of the Illinois men’s gymnastics teams for 12 seasons before taking the job and serves as vault/tumbling coach. Former Cal gymnast Kyana George is the volunteer assistant coach who works as choreographer.
LSU ranks 3rd on vault (49.415), 6th on bars (49.385), 11th on beam (49.230) and 5th on floor (49.430), but those rankings are absolutely meaningless for tonight’s meet considering the circumstances.
Haleigh Bryant and Aleah Finnegan are set to go in the all-around again with the chance for Elena Arenas to do so, too. The meet notes give tentative lineups that have three routines making their LSU debut and fourth making its season debut.
On bars, the probable lineup is Alexis Jeffrey, Livvy Dunne (season debut), Tori Tatum, Aleah, Alyona, Haleigh with Ashley Cowan listed as first alternate and Elena listed as second alternate. On vault, the probable lineup is Elena (9.95 SV), Alyona (10.0 SV), Chase Brock (listed with a 9.95 SV, but likely doing a 10.0 SV), Aleah, Bryce Wilson (career event debut, 9.95 SV), Haleigh (10.0 SV) with Alexis listed as alternate (9.95 SV). On floor, the probable lineup is Sierra Ballard, Alexis (career event debut), Chase, Elena, Aleah, Haleigh with Bryce listed as alternate. On beam, the probable lineup is Elena, Alexis (career event debut), Kai Rivers, Sierra, Haleigh, Aleah with Bryce listed as alternate.
There is no need to sugarcoat this meet because this could be a rough performance for this team. That’s mostly the result of inexperienced people having to perform in the largest arena in the SEC with a packed house for the first time in every member of this team’s career. That said, they’ve competed in front of more people at Utah and in front of a more hostile crowd at Arkansas and Auburn. That said again, it can be difficult to follow up an emotional win like the one against Florida. Expectations for tonight shouldn’t include winning the meet, I’d even argue to throw them out entirely. Instead, they need to show that they are still fighting and stay healthy.
LSU is looking to drop the 196.775 from the Utah meet and replace it with the score from this meet. Their current NQS is 197.335. The following list is of some relevant score checkpoints and what LSU’s NQS will be if they get that score.
197.250 (Arkansas score): 197.430
197.500 (Auburn score): 197.480
197.850 (total of best road event scores): 197.550
198.100+ (maximum possible NQS): 197.600