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LSU at Alabama Meet Recap

Tigers climb high enough to escape a surging Tide

The LSU gymnastics team stands for a picture at Coleman Coliseum, home of the University of Alabama. Directly behind them is a group of male students with their chests painted red with white letters spelling “LSWho?!” There is a bevy of other fans behind them.

What a tremendously positive result for the Tigers. LSU came into this meet with the momentum of a huge upset win and the burden of two crucial injuries. They didn’t let that set them back in a 197.975-197.925 win over then-#9 Alabama at Coleman Coliseum that saw them pick up their first road win. LSU moved to 4-5 on the season and concluded their SEC campaign 4-3. Head coach Jay Clark picked up his 80th career win as a head coach and his 30th at LSU.

SEC Gymnast of the Week Haleigh Bryant

Haleigh Bryant lit the place ablaze with a 39.800 all-around score that broke her career high of 39.775 set the prior meet. She had the highest all-around score in the SEC on the same night as Trinity Thomas’ senior night, something nobody was expecting. Haleigh is the sixth LSU gymnast to score 39.800 in the AA and the second this season after Aleah Finnegan did so at Auburn. This marks the first season in LSU history in which two different gymnasts won outright all-around titles at top-10 opponents. Haleigh won the night’s AA competition by a whopping 0.475 while also winning the vault title.

LSU Bars 49.175; Bama Vault 49.325:

LSU started the night about as rough as I was expecting. Alexis Jeffrey kicked things off with a solid 9.800. She caught her pak salto a bit close and had a semi-wonky low bar half turn, but she stuck her HIHO as well as usual. Livvy Dunne made her season debut to the delight of the millions (and millions) of her fans and scored a 9.825 on a 9.90/9.75 split that seemed to upset Jay slightly. She looked like she might’ve missed her first handstand (camera angle made it hard to tell), did a good tkatchev, had some leg separation in her pak, did her half turn like she did last year (it’s supposed to be in a handstand position before the turn, not during it as she did that time), hit her final handstand and had some leg separation in her double layout (DLO) before sticking it. It was pretty good considering the circumstances, but that judge split was a hidden harbinger. Tori Tatum followed with a good 9.875, losing points for an apparently missed first handstand (according to Kiana George) and a hop in place on her HIHO. Aleah followed with a 9.200 on a 9.30/9.10 split to the shock of everyone. What’s even more shocking is that she was on pace for a great score after fixing what could’ve been a short second handstand. She usually arches her back a bit when she hits her bail handstand, but that didn’t happen here. The issue was on the third swing into her Fontaine dismount because it was far too quick and caused her to whip out so far that she hit the mat way off balance. She managed to tumble safely forward and avoid injury. Alyona Shchennikova followed with an uncharacteristic 9.750 that got a generous score. She missed her first and third handstands, flexed her feet in her Ray, released to her pak way too early and arched, attempted to cheat the low bar half turn like how Livvy did and finished with the wonkiest “DLO” I’ve seen her do that she stuck on her toes. She apparently has rough meets when pulled from events and that was the case in this one after being pulled off beam and floor due to a groin injury. Haleigh finished the rotation off with a 9.925 that had no back flex on the bail handstand and only lost points for flexed feet in her double front half with staggered feet (I assume), both of which are atypical deductions.

Overall, this was a rough start with a tumble, but perhaps it was for the best that Aleah didn’t have to keep that pressure of getting a bars 10 and completing her gym slam in a month. LSU had run into a problem the whole year of one poor rotation being enough to kill their momentum, but that wasn’t the case anymore.

LSU Vault 49.675; Bama Bars 49.325 (LSU leads 98.850-98.650):

LSU had their second best vault rotation in program history tied with the one at Arizona in 2019, meaning this was tied for the best vault rotation in a road meet in LSU history. Elena Arenas kicked things off an ice-cold stuck Yurchenko Full (YF) for a 9.925 out of a possible 9.950 (deep landing deduction that’s rarely taken, especially in the SEC). Alyona followed with a 9.400 on her Yurchenko 1.5 (Y1.5) on which she staggered back after trying to stick it. Chase Brock was up next with a Y1.5 of her own in the building she would’ve called home had she stuck with her original commitment. She stuck this vault better than any in her career and scored a 9.975 for a new career high on any event. She landed it on her toes and had to step out after a small bit, but she saluted in a stuck position (supposed to hold for two seconds, she didn’t). Aleah followed with a 9.900 on her Omelianchik, losing a tenth for a controlled step forward. Bryce Wilson made her LSU vault debut and her return to the lineup for the first time since a scary beam fall at Kentucky. She has a Yurchenko Double that could be ready for next year, but she competed a YF that scored a 9.875. She stuck the vault one her toes and with her chest a bit piked over. Haleigh finished with her front handspring (FHS) front pike half. She knew what was coming when she hit the block and she was beaming when she spotted the landing. There was no doubt when it hit that it was a 10, and the judges agreed. This is Haleigh’s seventh 10 of her career, surpassing Sarah Finnegan’s career mark and putting her into a tie for fourth most in LSU history with Kiya Johnson and Lloimincia Hall, the latter of which Haleigh tied for second most 10s on a single event (Hall got her 10s on floor). The LSU career record for 10s on a single event is also the career record for 10s: 9 by Jennifer Wood on vault.

Overall, this was about as good a bounce back as anyone could’ve hoped for. Four stuck vaults including both YFs and a Haleigh Bryant 10. That’s pretty good.

Things went a little off the rails in the third rotation, but that was not because of the athletes.

LSU Floor 49.575; Bama Beam 49.700 (LSU leads 148.425-148.350):

The Tigers had a solid floor rotation and managed to stave off Bama’s surge in what might have been the worst judged rotation for both teams in an LSU meet this year. Sierra Ballard led off for LSU with a 9.850 that lost for a small slide on her back 1.5 to front layout (FLO) and a big hop back on her double pike. Before moving to Alexis’ floor debut, I have to discuss Rachel Rybicki’s beam score. She got a 9.900 on a 10.0/9.80 judge split, a legal split that should be impossible. That almost required the two judges to see different routines. Anyway, Alexis scored a 9.750 in her floor debut. Her front tuck through to double tuck had significant foot issues and a low landing, her switch side to Popa was okay, her double wolf turn was a bit unbalanced and she had to cover what could’ve been a fall out of it, and she nearly stuck her double pike. She hadn’t shown off floor since she was in Level 10, so this was solid considering the circumstances (no fall is the best part). Chase followed by setting a new career high on floor with a 9.925. She nailed her double pike, slightly slid on her double tuck, hit her switch side to Popa and finished with a very good back 1.5 to front full on which she lifted her foot at the end (slight deduction). Elena followed with a 9.825 on a 9.90/9.75 split. She had soft knees and a slight slide forward in her FLO to front double full, was short on her switch half (nailed wolf jumps), did a good cartwheel to back layout and finished with a FLO to front full that began with some pike and leg separation in the FLO and finished with soft knees.

Then the judges lost their minds on the final four routines. They combined to score 39.975 and none of the scores were justifiable. Lilly Hudson kicked off the circus show with a 10 despite knee issues on both parts of her acro series and a small foot slide on her landing. Aleah followed up with a 10 of her own that was basically a make-up score. She underrotated her double Arabian just enough where she had to take a step back instead of doing her stag leap out of it (should’ve been deducted since that skill is a front tumble), she did her back 2.5 to front tuck as well as usual, she nailed her switch ring, she did an okay tour jete half (might not have been split) and she finished with a back 1.5 to FLO on which she rose on landing and showed a lack of control. With the score, Aleah became the first LSU gymnast to get a 10 in four consecutive meets. Luisa Blanco anchored the Tide beam rotation with another 10 on what was a nearly perfect routine. The only deduction should’ve been for her lean back at the end of her BHS LOSO, but it was a noticeable lean. Despite all of this, Haleigh got a 9.975 to finish the rotation. The camera zoomed in on her front double front for some reason, but it looked very good. She followed with a perfect FLO to Rudi, had good head release on her switch ring, nailed her switch half and finished with a good front double full that had a small issue with crossed legs. This routine shouldn’t have scored a 10 in a vacuum, but if the judges were being consistent with the score they gave to the routine prior, it should’ve.

Overall, this was a solid rotation for LSU. They kept themselves in the meet despite Bama’s incredible beam scores and kept their composure. Even when scoring got out of control, they didn’t collapse under the pressure, and that continued to beam.

LSU Beam 49.550; Bama Floor 49.575 (LSU wins 197.975-197.925):

The Tigers finished the meet with a very solid beam rotation while Alabama was imperfect enough on floor to stay off pace. Elena led off with a 9.850 that indicated some continuity from the prior rotation. She was short on her split jump, had soft knees in her BHS LOSO, was short on her switch half and took a step forward on her RO back 1.5. Alexis followed with a solid 9.900. She had a little wobble on her wolf turn (probably not taken), did a good cat leap to switch side, did a good BHS LOSO, did a surprisingly good front tuck (wasn’t aware she did that) and finished with a slightly underrotated RO back 1.5 which she stepped back out of to salute. Kai Rivers went next and got a 9.700 on a 9.75/9.65 split. She started out with a rough BHS LOSO on which she had a big wobble, she was short on her switch half and wobbled on that landing, did a good split jump to straddle quarter and finished with a RO double full that opened so early, she had to stick her chest out and step. Sierra had the unenviable task of trying to reset the team’s momentum, and she did it with a career-high 9.925 that had a small issue on her full turn. Other than that, this was a well-executed routine that finished with a powerfully stuck RO back 1.5. Haleigh finished her incredible night with a 9.900. Her main issues came with some wobble on her dance (weird) and a wobble on her standing front tuck that’s recently given her trouble, but the rest of the routine was fine. Aleah finished off her night with a 9.975 to give her an all-around score of 39.075 in an impressive comeback. The judging in the prior rotation could’ve seen this score a 10 considering most of the routine was perfect, but she stuck her gainer full with momentum carrying backward through her and earned a deduction. This routine sealed the Tiger victory because Alabama would’ve needed a 10.025 to tie.

Overall, this was a solid beam rotation that saw the Tigers bounce back from a rough routine to finish strong thanks to a career high from Sierra Ballard, but give props to Alexis Jeffrey for delivering a solid routine in her event debut.

Overall thoughts:

Jay has said that wins and losses aren’t the most important thing in this sport multiple times this year, but this win was the most important of any this season. They finally put together a solid road meet and won unlike the Auburn meet, they showed determination and fight after a rough start, they didn’t let a bad routine on beam slow them down and most importantly of all, they kept their momentum from the Florida meet. Chase Brock had the best meet of her career. She followed Alyona’s sat vault with a massive stick and did her best floor routine after getting pulled against Florida for inconsistency. Bryce Wilson made her triumphant return to the lineup with a solid vault. Alexis Jeffrey stepped into an expanded role and hit where needed. Sierra Ballard showed more confidence and fight on beam than she had before.

It gets so easy to be locked into the mindset that the people who decide meets are the all-arounders and star specialists. LSU lost one of them in preseason, they lost another early in the season, they lost another after Florida and that isn’t stopping them. People that have needed to step up have done so better than equivalent gymnasts on the opposing teams. This year’s team is showing a much better mindset than last year’s team and that’s really good. If they want to continue their climb, they can’t shift away from their path.