This was a much better stepping stone to the tournament than SECs last year. LSU finished third at the 2023 SEC Gymnastics Championship Saturday night. The overall final scores were as follows from first to last: Florida 198.425 (new meet record), Alabama 197.925, LSU 197.800, Kentucky 197.675 (tying the best finish in school history), Auburn 197.100, Missouri 197.000, Arkansas 196.825, Georgia 196.600. LSU’s 197.800 is third best in program history at the conference championship meet behind the 197.900 in 2019 and 198.075 in 2017 that each won conference titles. That score alongside Cal’s 197.825 at Pac-12s locked the Tigers into the 6th overall seed in the 2023 NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Tournament. I’ll have a full breakdown of the Denver Regional next week.
Bars 49.325 (4th place after 1)
LSU looked strong on bars during podium training the day prior to the meet, but that didn’t translate all the way to the competition environment. Alexis Jeffrey got the Tigers off to a much stronger start than last year’s SECs with a 9.850. She had some leg separation in her pak, swirled her legs in her low bar half turn, over-arched her final handstand and college stuck her HIHO, but she swung aggressively and showed great fight. Livvy Dunne earned the second spot in the bars lineup over Ashley Cowan and delivered another strong 9.850. She missed her final handstand and swung with more piking than Alexis, but she did the best low bar half turn I’ve seen her compete and college stuck the best double layout (DLO) I’ve seen her compete which are both great signs. Tori Tatum then scored LSU’s first 9.900 of the night. She was short on her final handstand and swirled her legs in her low bar half turn, but she had good toe point in her Ray, stuck her HIHO and looked confident throughout. Aleah Finnegan followed with yet another 9.850. She caught her piked deltchev close and took a step forward on her Fontaine, but everything else was fine. Alyona Shchennikova returned to the bars lineup with a rough 9.800. She was short on her first and third handstands, caught her Ray with flexed feet close, lost form in her pak, cheated her low bar half turn and hopped back on her DLO. This was a 9.600 routine at best before taking for form errors in the DLO and was another great example of score bunching. Haleigh Bryant finished things up with a 9.875. She barely hit her second handstand and hopped back on her double front half, but everything else except for the Jaeger was fine. Not only did she catch her Jaeger close, but her right foot also contacted the low bar swinging into it. Both of those are deductions, but that contact was either a brush or a hit. Judges have their own standards of what is a brush or a hit, and it’s an important difference since a brush on the apparatus is up to a 0.1 deduction while a hit on the apparatus is a flat 0.2 deduction.
Overall, this was a decent start. Landings weren’t as good as they could’ve been and the fight died down halfway through the rotation, but they survived the event that knocked them out at SECs last year.
Beam 49.350 (98.675 overall, 4th place after 2)
Based on the circumstances, this was LSU’s worst beam rotation in over a month. It was a solid rotation, but they’ve shown more fight on the beam in past meets. Elena Arenas led off with a 9.800. She was short on her leaps and hopped forward on her round-off (RO) back 1.5 after trying her hardest to stick it, but she never looked close to coming off the beam and set a good tone. Alyona followed with a 9.875, her second straight on the event. She had some leg form in the latter part of her front aerial to back handspring back handspring (BHS), was short on her switch leap and split jump and had a slight wobble on her side aerial, but she started with a beautiful full turn and finished with a stuck BHS gainer full. Alexis delivered yet another strong beam routine with her 9.875. Her switch side had flexed feet and her BHS LOSO had minor leg form and a hip check, but she nailed her wolf turn, standing front and RO back 1.5. Sierra Ballard followed up with a 9.850. She had some leg form and a hip check on her BHS LOSO, was short on her switch half and fought to stay on after wobbling on her kickover front, but she stuck her RO back 1.5 and looked very confident throughout. Haleigh scored a season low with her 9.825. The deductions came on her hardest skills. She had a big wobble on her standing front and took a step back on her standing punch Rudi, the former being a skill she’s had big wobbles on since the Auburn and the latter being tough to land in general. Aleah anchored the beam rotation with an outstanding 9.925. The only point at which she would’ve incurred a very noticeable deduction was when she had a hip check on her BHS LO LOSO series to begin her routine. The rest of it was near perfect, though she stuck her gainer full with staggered feet.
Overall, the biggest issue was with splits. There were five short splits in this rotation for a total loss of 0.250, more than the difference between second and third place. They looked a little more timid than in past meets which could explain things, but it’s an area in which the team must improve for the tournament.
Floor 49.625 (148.300 overall, 4th place after 3)
LSU tied their highest floor score at an SEC championship with the rotation from 2013. Sierra kicked things off with a 9.900 despite it being her worst performance since the Arkansas meet. Her back 1.5 to front layout (FLO) wasn’t fully rotated and she was short on her switch half, but she hit her DLO as well as ever and stuck her double pike on her toes. Alyona followed up with a 9.900. She took a side step out of her well-controlled front double full and was short on her switch half, but the rest of the gymnastics was fine. That said, she had to rush through her choreography to get to her ending pose because it seemed she got out of sync with the music. Chase Brock tied her career high with a 9.925. She slid back on her double tuck and failed to complete the turn on her switch side to Popa, but she stuck her double pike with more power than before and did her best back 1.5 to front full of the season. Elena walked onto the floor with the concerning look that indicated she lacked confidence, and that showed in her 9.800. She piked into her FLO, crossed her legs in her front double full and landed with a big step, and was well short on her switch half, but everything after that was very good. Aleah brought her show to Duluth with a 9.950. The only deduction I noticed was for an incomplete turn on her tour jete half, but she nailed her double Arabian to stag jump and did a very good back 2.5 to front tuck. Haleigh anchored the rotation by bringing the house down on another 9.950. People online argued the deduction came on her switch ring position, but that’s less likely than the slight slide back after she landed her front double full. The first two passes were absolutely unreal, she stuck her front double front with authority and had a beautiful FLO to Rudi. This was the only LSU routine on which all four judges gave the same score.
Overall, this was the fight that had been missing in the first half of the meet. There’s not much more to say than floor team hit. That was LSU at their best.
Vault 49.500 (197.800 overall, 3rd place)
LSU finished the meet strong on their best event. Elena led off with a 9.900 on a stuck Yurchenko Full (YF) with a soft right leg. Alyona followed up with a 9.875 on her Yurchenko 1.5 (Y1.5) on which she took a step. Chase tried to stick her Y1.5, but she sat it and scored a 9.250. Aleah faced the pressure well and scored a 9.900 on a hopped Omelianchik. Bryce Wilson nailed her YF and scored a 9.925 because two judges took for toe point (that’s the best guess anybody’s had). Haleigh finished the night stronger than she did last year with a decent FHS front pike half that scored a 9.900 because of a hop back.
Overall, this was a solid LSU vault rotation, the kind that should be a good springboard into the tournament.
This was not a disappointing result by any means. I get a lot of LSU fans are used to winning the conference and find it tough to understand a third place finish, but there was no way anybody was topping Florida that night and LSU’s less than stellar start was not going to cut it against Alabama, a team that always shows up to SECs on their game. This was a performance that’s in line with what LSU’s done over the past month. They got through the first half unscathed and attacked the second half with the gusto everyone’s come to expect. This was the kind of meet that teams need going into the postseason, a strong performance with high highs and middle lows. LSU’s lowest counting score was a 9.825. Bryce Wilson, a freshman doing her fourth vault of the season, finished as a runner-up on vault while Aleah and Haleigh took floor by storm. All three earned All-SEC honors for their performances. Now the climb goes to new heights as LSU travels to the Mile High City for the first rounds of the tournament.