LSU looks to finish the regular season strong and send out their seniors on a high note.
The #6 Tigers are back in the PMAC for the final time this season hoping to set themselves up for a strong postseason. Last week, LSU battled past even more adversity to finish first at the inaugural Purple & Gold Podium Challenge at the Raising Cane’s River Center with a 197.700, barely beating #7 Cal who put up a 197.675 and zooming past #25 Washington and #38 George Washington. Tonight, they’ll face #35 West Virginia in the regular season finale. The meet will be streamed on SEC Network+ beginning at 7:00 p.m. Doors open at 6:00, intros begin at 7:16 and first vault is at 7:32.
LSU vs West Virginia history:
LSU is 11-0 in all competitions against West Virginia and 5-0 at home. The two teams last met in 2012 on LSU’s senior night in which LSU won 196.850-194.900. West Virginia was supposed to be LSU’s 2022 opening opponent after Cal pulled out due to Covid restrictions, but they had to back out a week before the meet because of Covid issues within their program.
About West Virginia:
West Virginia comes into this meet 11-7 on the year and just inside the NCAA tournament bubble at #35 out of 36 teams. They’re looking to solidify their spot by dropping a 195.575. The Mountaineers finished 33rd overall last year and 3rd out of four teams at Big 12s.
WVU has two stars worth noting: one event specialist and one all-arounder. Junior Ellen Collins is a floor specialist who made her debut in the team’s fifth meet and also did vault for three meets before sticking to floor. She’s scored 9.900 on three of her five floor routines this season and won Big 12 Event Specialist of the Week for her performance at the February 19 meet vs Bowling Green. Senior Kianna Yancey is an all-arounder who’s not missed a bars or beam rotation but has been out of some floor and vault rotations. She’s been in the all-around at six of the team’s 10 meets, and her season high is 9.925 on both floor and beam. She set her season and career high in the all-around on Sunday at her senior day with a 39.450.
The Mountaineers rank 37th on vault (49.020), t-45th with Temple and LIU on bars (48.885), t-35th with George Washington on beam (48.975) and t-23rd with NC State on floor (49.325). Floor has been their specialty over the past few years and they’ve finished inside the top 25 on the event every season since 2019. They’ve scored at least 49.000 on floor in 28 consecutive meets, and the last time they failed to do so was at Iowa State on March 1, 2021.
Jason Butts is in his 12th season as West Virginia’s head coach. He is assisted by associate head coach Travis Doak in his ninth year in the role and 15th year with the program and assistant head coach Zaakira Muhammad, a former WVU gymnast in her third season as a WVU coach and first under her current title.
The Tigers rank 2nd on vault (49.495), 8th on bars (49.400), 11th on beam (49.345) and 4th on floor (49.515).
Reigning SEC Gymnast of the Week Haleigh Bryant is in the all-around and is expected to be joined by Aleah Finnegan who missed the last meet with an illness. Elena Arenas could join them depending on what happens with the bars lineup.
On vault, the probable lineup is Elena (9.95 SV), Alyona Shchennikova (10.0 SV), Chase Brock (10.0 SV), Aleah (10.0 SV), Bryce Wilson (9.95 SV), Haleigh (10.0 SV) with Alexis Jeffrey (9.95 SV) listed as alternate. On bars, the probable lineup begins with Alexis, then has a tie between Livvy Dunne and Elena Arenas, then Tori Tatum, Aleah, Ashley Cowan and Haleigh with Alyona listed as alternate (replaced by Ashley). On beam, the probable lineup is Elena, Alyona, Alexis, Sierra Ballard, Haleigh, Aleah with Bryce listed as alternate. On floor, the probable lineup is Sierra, Alyona, Chase, Elena, Aleah, Haleigh with Alexis listed as alternate. There might be some exhibitions because it’s senior night, but none have been announced at time of writing.
Despite LSU’s senior class having seven members, only one is expected to compete outside of exhibitions. This senior class (excluding Cammy Hall for the moment) has seen its fair share of hardships. Their first season came to a premature end. They had to deal with meets in front of empty crowds. They had to deal with the impacts of Covid across two seasons. They were part of the first post-D-D LSU team and the first post-Bob Moore LSU team in back-to-back seasons. They’ve dealt with injuries and illness and controversy and general uncertainty in so many areas, but they’re still here. Of that group of seven, five chose to be at LSU over other schools to which they were committed. Cammy Hall had the option of taking a Covid year at Utah, but she chose to come to LSU. Kiya Johnson was a Georgia commit who chose to come to LSU. Maddie Rau was a Rutgers commit who decided to enroll at LSU in January of 2020 when she was supposed to be in her final semester of high school. Kamryn Ryan signed an NLI to Alabama and chose to stay home and walk on at LSU. Alyona Shchennikova was as close to a done deal to Michigan as it gets, but she decided to come to LSU instead. Those five alongside Lexi Nibbs, Kai Rivers and manager Caitlin Smith take their final bows (unless they take a fifth year) tonight in front of a crowd that’s welcomed them over these past four years.
NQS means more than just LSU’s position at regionals, it determines their position at SECs. The Tigers can’t overtake Florida nor can they fall out of the evening session. They are in a fight with Alabama to determine the #2 seed at SECs. LSU controls its destiny in the matter, meaning they have a higher maximum NQS than Alabama. Alabama’s maximum possible NQS going into SECs in 197.735 and would require them to score at least 198.000. LSU’s maximum possible NQS going into SECs is a 197.795 and would require the Tigers to score at least 198.100. LSU will secure the #2 seed at SECs with a 197.800 no matter what Alabama scores because they will have an NQS of 197.735 and the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Tide. LSU is looking to drop the 197.450 from the home opener vs Oklahoma which is also their lowest counting score. Here are some scores and the resulting NQS if LSU hits these benchmarks.
198.100+ (maximum NQS): 197.795