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Purple and Gold Podium Challenge Recap

LSU defies adversity to post another top-10 win

They don’t back down without a fight, do they? LSU had to fight off even more adversity in this meet and still came out in first place with a 197.700. #38 George Washington finished fourth with a 195.125, then-#24 Washington finished third with a 196.000 and #7 Cal finished second with a 197.675. LSU moved to 7-5 on the season with the three victories in a somewhat messy meet. Note: I didn’t get to rewatch all 24 LSU routines, so some analysis is going to be more basic than usual.

More adversity

LSU has had some of the worst luck this season and it didn’t get better for this meet. Aleah Finnegan got sick the week of the meet and had to miss it, which forced changes on all four events. One of those changes was going to be Kai Rivers going back on beam after being listed as an alternate and, based on the information I’ve gathered, another would’ve been Kai making her floor debut. Kai was training on a soft floor the majority of the year, but they began having her go on a hard floor a couple weeks prior to the podium meet. Elevated podiums are a bit softer than those on the ground, so they decided to let her do floor at podium training the day before the meet, at which she impressed. Unfortunately, Kai tore her right Achilles tendon on floor during the warm-up period before the start of the meet (which got delayed 30 minutes by some of the judges getting stuck in traffic). Despite those setbacks, LSU had a solid meet.

Vault (49.550)

LSU began the meet with a very good score on what is admittedly their best event. Elena Arenas kicked things off with a stuck Yurchenko Full (YF) to earn a 9.900. Alyona Shchennikova followed with a Yurchenko 1.5 (Y1.5) that had a hop and scored a 9.850. Chase Brock continued her recent hot streak with a stuck Y1.5 that earned her a 9.975, only losing a bit for a small control issue (her chest kept moving through the stick). Tori Tatum made her vault debut with a Y1.5 that Jay mentioned she’d been doing in the gym but was hit or miss. She ended up sitting it and scored an 8.750 on a 9.00/8.50 split. Bryce Wilson followed with a YF that, despite appearing to stick from my angle, scored a 9.850. Haleigh Bryant finished the vault rotation with her front handspring (FHS) front pike half and earned a 9.975 despite hopping back and carrying her momentum through her landing.

Overall, despite the rough pre-meet stuff, LSU pulled themselves together for a strong start.

Bars (49.350)

Note: I have been unable to find footage of the latter half of this rotation.

The Tigers followed with a solid bars rotation. Alexis Jeffrey led off with a 9.900 that was extremely good and could’ve scored a 9.950 or higher later in the lineup (couldn’t see much for deductions, but I was at the opposite end of the arena). Livvy Dunne followed with a 9.825 that had a tkatchev that looked a bit low, a cheated low bar half turn and a couple stutter steps on her double layout (DLO) landing. Tori followed with a 9.875 on which she cheated the low bar half turn and had a squatty HIHO landing. Ashley Cowan followed with a career-high 9.850 that was very good until an underrotated DLO forced her to step back, Alyona followed with a 9.800 that was okay and Haleigh anchored with a 9.900 that was nearly perfect until she hopped on her double front half landing. Elena exhibitioned an unpolished bars routine that was probably more about getting the feeling of competing on a podium than anything else.

Overall, this was an okay bars rotation that gave people valuable experience on podium. Ashley showed much more of her capabilities and Alexis scored 9.900+ in the lead spot for the fourth time in eight appearances, which is incredible.

Beam (49.275)

LSU had just enough beam routines to make a full rotation, and they came together to do a solid job. Elena led off with a 9.825 that had a couple missed splits and a step forward on her round-off (RO) back 1.5 but was otherwise solid. Alyona followed with a 9.725 in which she showed her gymnastic intelligence. She wobbled a bit on her full turn and followed with a front aerial on which she had a huge wobble. She normally connects it to a BHS LOSO, but doing so immediately would’ve lowered her start value. She decided to stop, redo that skill and properly connect the series. The rest of the routine had some minor issues, but it finished without a fall. Alexis followed with a 9.850 on a 9.90/9.80 split. The spots with issues were the BHS LOSO with slight leg form (knee bends), chest forward on her standing front tuck and lean forward on her RO back 1.5 landing. Sierra Ballard followed with a near-career high 9.900 that showed the fight she’s become known for in her routines and only had a couple times where her chest was a bit too far forward and an issue with not getting all the way around on her switch half’s turn. Haleigh kept the solid rotation going with a 9.850 that was solid throughout save for another big wobble on the standing front tuck. Bryce made her return to the beam lineup with a 9.850 that originally scored a 9.825 until an inquiry. One judge scored the routine a 9.80 from a 9.9 start value because it appeared she broke her connection between her switch leap and straddle quarter (it was extremely close). She had a great return to the lineup and nailed her BHS to BHS two-foot double full dismount (with slight momentum carry through the landing).

Overall, this was a really good show of the difference between the LSU beam of the late season and the LSU beam of the early season. Despite the adversity, this group put up a great performance and never came very close to falling.

Floor (49.575)

Floor team hit, it’s hard to ask for much more for an ending. Sierra led off with a 9.850 that likely lost for an underrotated double pike on which she hopped forward. Alyona followed with a 9.900 on a 9.95/9.85 split. It was closer to a 9.85 and was not a 9.95 from my initial viewing, but it was a good routine. Chase continued her recent success with her second consecutive 9.925 on floor that had some slight control issues on the first two passes and a sideward step out of the final pass instead of an allowed front step. Elena kept the momentum with a solid 9.875 and Alexis followed with a 9.750 that needs a lot more work before it earns a spot in the lineup beyond its use as an injury replacement. Haleigh finished her night with a 9.975 that was incorrectly flashed a 9.925 in the arena. She was perfect until she underrotated her front double full and had to make a minor hop back. There is no reason she should be doing that final pass, she already has a 10.0 SV with everything else before it, it’s her worst pass and she did a two-pass routine that excluded it the majority of last season. There are at least two routines from this season, including this one, that were 10s before the final pass, but that’s where I’ll leave it.

Overall, this was a solid rotation in which the Tigers completed a solid meet. The scoring was a tad off, but it was as off as it had been the majority of the night. The team looked to be in the right spot, and that was most important.

Overall thoughts

It took about 15 minutes for the final scores to come in, but they said LSU won. Haleigh Bryant earned a 39.700 in the all-around to win not only the event’s title, but she also earned SEC Gymnast of the Week for the second week in a row with the highest AA score among SEC gymnasts. This performance allowed LSU to drop the 197.250 score from the Arkansas meet and bumped their NQS by nearly a tenth. This was yet another gutsy performance by an LSU squad whose season has become defined by their gutsiness. They enter the final meet of the regular season looking to lock up the second seed at SECs and send out a great senior class with a solid score.