LSU had their best performance of the season Friday night and improved to 2-4 and 2-2 in the SEC in a 197.900-196.925 win over #17 Georgia in front of yet another packed PMAC crowd. The win marked LSU’s 18th straight over Georgia in all competitions and sixth straight at home. The first half saw LSU get off to a bit of a slow start while the second half saw LSU set season highs as they pulled away to a massive win.
First off, some of you may be wondering about Georgia’s final score since that wasn’t the final score when the meet ended on the broadcast or in the arena. That’s because the meet isn’t officially over until the judges and coaches have signed the official score sheet, and Georgia head coach Courtney Kupets Carter filed multiple inquiries on beam scores. In the end, Jacquie Moran went from a 9.875 to a 9.925, Josie Angeny went from a 9.800 to a 9.900 and Vanessa Deniz went from a 9.675 to a 9.725. There are limitations on what a coach can inquire about, but I can’t pinpoint what’s most likely.
As for LSU, this was pretty good. They set a good opening NQS with a 197.040, the best among the 15 teams that have one, and finally got over the 197.500 barrier. They hit fewer routines than they did at Arkansas (21 instead of 23) and there were some performances that were worse, but nobody took a massive step back and some took the steps forward they’d been meaning to since their season debut.
Vault (49.475, 4th):
This was a decent vault rotation, but it wasn’t as good as the one at Arkansas. However, this rotation saw three stuck vaults compared to the one stuck in Barnhill. Elena Arenas kicked things off with a 9.775 on her Yurchenko Full (YF), and that got head coach Jay Clark incensed. He didn’t agree with the 9.75 score, but further review shows that she had leg separation on her block, leg separation on her second flight (from after the block to landing), lack of control on the landing and a small step back, all of which an experienced and qualified judge not only can see, but is expected to see and deduct. Even then, “lack of control” is a judgment call and can be a 0.1 deduction if a judge believes it’s worthy. Anyway, Alyona Shchennikova followed up with a 9.750 on her Yurchenko 1.5 (Y1.5) thanks to a massive bounce and step. Aleah Finnegan followed up with the best Omelianchik of her college career with a 9.900 on a 9.95/9.85 split (same judge that gave Elena a 9.75 gave Aleah a 9.85, only fueling Jay’s annoyance). She stuck the landing itself, but she threw it out about as early as she did at Arkansas, so she had to carry her momentum through the landing and step out to salute. Chase Brock followed up with a 9.950 on her Y1.5. The only deduction was for staggered feet on the landing, but she stuck that thing and let out the most powerful yell I’ve seen after a vault. She set a new all-event career high with her score. KJ Johnson couldn’t follow up her perfect YF from Arkansas with another, slightly hopping back for a 9.875. Haleigh Bryant finished things off with her famous front handspring (FHS) pike half that went 9.975 and won her the vault crown. Keen viewers may have noticed a person shaking their head in the background as she landed, and that’s because it was me realizing that, though she stuck her vault, she piked her chest on the landing and wasn’t getting a 10 (oddly enough, the judge that gave Haleigh a 10 was the one Jay got mad at earlier, surely she won’t come up again).
Overall, this was what any LSU fan or team member would call a success. While Elena and Alyona had their struggles, Aleah and Chase set career highs on vault and Haleigh came so close to another 10.
Bars was actually a bit worse than it was against Arkansas, but it wasn’t worrying.
Bars (49.300, t-8th):
Once again, I rescored this bars rotation (the plan for basically every one going forward) and got a 49.00, a 0.15 decline from the Arkansas meet. The team stuck fewer dismounts and had to count multiple 9.70 routines (based on my judgment, note that scores in parenthesis are mine). The actual judges scored this the same as that rotation, which feels wrong. Alexis Jeffrey kicked things off with a 9.900 on a 9.95/9.85 split (9.90). She was short on her first handstand, hit a very good Maloney to pak salto (legs glued on the pak), good second handstand, maintained that position throughout her half turn, was short on her final handstand and stuck her HIHO. That would be enough to tie for the bars title. Elena followed up with an unfortunate routine that I decided not to rescore since it didn’t have a 10.0 start value, ending up with a 8.975 on a 9.15/8.80 split (legal for scores that low). She hit her first handstand and followed with a good Tkatchev, but she overarched her pak salto and banged on the low bar when catching it. She stayed up, hit a handstand, went into a gorgeous half turn, hit her final handstand, piked to open her double layout (DLO) and had leg separation (they’re built-in deductions, she hasn’t found a way to get them out it seems) before nearly sticking her landing (moving backward, had to step out to salute). Tori Tatum would have to wait out an injury to Nicole King before getting the chance to go, and she scored a 9.775 on a 9.85/9.70 split (9.70). The TV broadcast was too busy showing the injury to show the start of her routine, but she looked like she hit her first handstand in the arena, then flexed her feet on her Ray, hit her pak salto well, hit her second handstand, just maintained form on her half turn, had a wobbly squat on the low bar, came up short on her final handstand, had big leg separation in the air and hopped back on her HIHO. This was a far cry from the brilliance of the meet before, but it’s not worth getting worried about. Aleah followed up with a 9.850 on a 9.90/9.80 split (9.80). She barely hit her first handstand, hit her piked Deltchev, did good second and third handstands, hit her bail handstand (lost some momentum, no deduction), hit her final handstand and finished with a double Arabian (or Fontaine, they are extremely similar to the point that gymnasts attempting do to a Fontaine often do the other skill by accident) that was underrotated and required her to take a step back. Alyona followed up with a 9.875 (9.75) that should be mathematically impossible if judges were taking for her dismount. She hit her first handstand, flexed her feet in her Ray, hit a beautiful pak salto, hit her second handstand, didn’t maintain position in her half turn, hit her final handstand and finished with her DLO (-0.15, it fails to lay out) that stuck in the way only that DLO can; it’s so awesome and powerful. Haleigh finished off with a 9.900 (9.85) to tie Alexis (and Haley De Jong) for the bars title). She hit her first handstand, bent her arms to catch her Jaeger, hit a good bail handstand, hit her third handstand and slid her foot back on her double front half landing.
Overall, some of the issues could’ve stemmed from the freak thing with Elena’s pak salto and King’s injury, but it wasn’t a major off point. Also, big props to how Alexis has stepped up in the lead spot on bars after Kiya Johnson’s injury. She’s managed to win two bars titles from the lead spot in the four meets she’s been in it and has shown off tremendous tenacity and grit alongside her incredible talent.
Beam looked better than it has all season, but that’s not been much of a bar to clear.
Beam (49.250, t-17th):
LSU set a season high on beam, but if you’re wondering if that’s low for this late in the season, you’re right. The last time LSU failed to go 49.300 on beam through the first six meets was 2013, when the Tigers maxed out at 49.275 in their sixth meet against Mizzou. However, as seen by their zero fall, all hit performance at Gym 101, it’s not due to a lack of talent, just something with their mindset.
Kai Rivers continued her recent struggles with a 9.625 on a 9.70/9.55 split. She started with a wobbly BHS LOSO, followed with a good and aggressive full turn, followed with a good switch half that landed with a massive balance check (very wobbly), followed with a good switch leap to straddle quarter and finished with a round-off (RO) double full with crossed legs and a step forward. Jay mentioned Monday that she keeps all her mistakes in her head and she has a tough time forgetting them (like a DB needs a short memory yet some don’t), so perhaps that fall against Missouri keeps coming back up. Alyona followed up with a 9.850 on a 9.90/9.80 split. She started with a good candle mount, then a good front aerial to BHS BHS (small wobbles, the camera angle made it easier to see than it was when in the arena), good switch leap to split jump, good side aerial and finished off with a stuck BHS gainer full. Sierra Ballard followed up with a 9.825 in the three hole, the first time anybody in that spot in the beam lineup scored at least a 9.800 this season. The judges signaled her to go so early, Mike Smith got up from his spot behind the P.A. mic to go get at someone because he didn’t get a chance to introduce her. Perhaps it was a good thing, because Sierra started with a very good BHS LOSO (deduction for soft knees), hit good full turn, hit a good sissonne to switch half (slow to connect them, but connected), nailed a fantastic kickover front and finished with RO 1.5 that piked on the landing and had a step forward. She looked confident and composed throughout and tied her career beam high. Elena followed up with a 9.775, her third straight sub-9.800 score on beam after a strong first two routines. She began with a jittery switch leap to split jump, followed with a good yet soft BHS LOSO, followed with a beautiful front toss, then a beautiful full turn, a short switch half and finished with an underrotated RO back 1.5 on which she took a step to the side and back. Haleigh followed up with a 9.900, and she’s shown the clearest mind of anyone in the beam lineup (never seems phased by what happens before). She began with an outstanding front aerial to BHS, then a good switch leap to straddle quarter, beautiful full turn, powerful standing front tuck, a great split jump and finished with a standing punch Rudi with a small hop. Aleah finished with another 9.900 (the event-title-winning score). She began with a good candle mount half, then a gorgeous BHS LO LOSO, a good switch leap to split jump, a beautiful full turn, a front aerial with a finessed check and finished with a stuck gainer full.
Overall, this was an improvement, but they need to find their confidence. Again, the only time they’ve hit everything was at Gym 101 when there was zero pressure. When it clicks, it’ll click, and that could happen out of nowhere.
Floor was amazing.
Floor (49.675, 12th):
LSU didn’t just set a season high on floor, they tied the team mark for the seventh-best floor score in team history (alongside three others, the most recent of which came against Utah in 2022). Sierra kicked things off with a 9.875 on a 9.95/9.80 split. The judge that scored her routine a 9.80 was the one that had already gotten on Jay’s nerves, and he was on her to the point where she pulled her yellow card out of her purse and warned him, then told the timekeeper that he’d get the card if he came back (would’ve been a .1 deduction from the team score). Sierra began with a very good DLO (just a small slide back on the landing), then a good back 1.5 to front layout (FLO), good switch ring to okay switch half and finished with a huge double pike that hopped back and slid (making the 9.95 mathematically impossible). Take those deductions and 9.80 is definitely a reasonable score (though the first slide was quite small). Alyona followed up with a 9.925. Her front double twist was okay (not too jittery), her back 1.5 to FLO was great, her switch ring was hard to evaluate (maybe it was good) but her switch half was fine and her Rudi to split jump was full of enough deductions to make the final score impossible. She nearly traveled beyond the mat (had to swing her arms to balance) and her split jump wasn’t split (to the point it probably shouldn’t count). Not even Jay thought it was a 9.925 (said as much when he saw the score). Chase followed up with a 9.075 on a 9.15/9.00 split on a routine that looked decent until an uncharacteristic mishap. She began with a massive double pike with a slide back, then landed her double tuck on her toes and hopped forward, then hit a great switch side to Popa, but when she went to land the end of her back 1.5 to front full, she slipped and fell. KJ followed up with a tied career-high 9.950. Her opening full-in was the best she’s done all season (slight slide back), then she hit a great back 1.5 to FLO, then a good switch side to Popa and finished with a very double tuck with a small foot slide. Her performance in this meet was enough to win SEC Specialist of the Week, her second weekly conference honor of her career. Aleah followed up with a pretty good routine of her own. She hit her double Arabian powerfully, connected to stag jump, nailed her 2.5 to punch front, hit a superb switch ring to tour jete half and finished with a perfect back 1.5 to FLO. Mike turned around to check with me like he had when she went 9.950 against OU, but there was no question in my mind nor in the judges’ that this was a 10. This was the first of her career and was very well deserved. Haleigh finished things up with a 9.925 to lock up her sixth straight all-around title. She did a great FHS double front with a step out (controlled), then a perfect FLO to Rudi, a good BHS, a switch ring that shouldn’t have counted because it wasn’t a ring, a decent switch half and finished with a FHS double full that lacked some control (been an issue all season).
Overall, this was a strong floor rotation even with the mathematically impossible score. The quality was some of the best all season, Aleah finally got her 10 that she was so close to multiple times prior, KJ was back in the form she was last season and Alyona hit everything but her final pass better than she had all season.
This has to be the springboard for the rest of the season. The midseason is here, so it’s time to get into form. The next meet is a Friday Night Heights clash at #5 Auburn at 7:30 p.m. Win or lose, LSU should be looking for a better road score than at Arkansas to build their NQS.