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Purple and Gold Podium Challenge Preview

A road meet at home?

LSU gymnast Chase Brock stands on a purple background wearing a black and purple competition leotard facing the left with her head facing the viewer. Black text around her reads “Rise to the occasion.” Below her are the logos for LSU, Cal, Washington and George Washington. Below them is white text reading “Friday, March 3; 6:00 PM CT.”

The climb takes a literal form.

The #6 Tigers get an opportunity to prep for the postseason and get a road score in their own backyard. Last week, LSU earned their first road win of the season with a 197.975-197.925 victory at then-#9 Alabama. Tonight, they travel to the Raising Cane’s River Center for a “road” meet in the inaugural Purple & Gold Podium Challenge against #38 George Washington, #24 Washington and #7 Cal. The meet will not be streamed or televised, but there will be live stats available at (though the event isn’t listed on the website yet) when it begins at 6:00 p.m. (doors open at 4:30). In a twist that’s become a theme of the 2023 Pac-12 season, this meet counts as the Pac-12 regular season meeting between Washington and Cal.

Note: all rankings are based on the rankings as of 3/3/23, not the weekly rankings.

Series history with each team:

LSU is 9-0 all-time against George Washington and 6-0 on neutral floors. The teams last met in one of the 2019 Baton Rouge Regional Semifinals at which LSU won 197.200-194.675 and last met in the regular season in a 2008 quad meet at NC State at which LSU won 196.500-192.550. LSU is 13-4 all-time against Washington and 8-4 on neutral floors. They last met at the 2018 Metroplex Challenge in Fort Worth at which LSU beat the Huskies 197.375-196.525. LSU is 2-0 all-time against Cal and 1-0 on neutral floors. They last met in the 2019 season opener at which LSU won 196.775-195.650. Their only other meeting came in a quad meet at UCLA in 1997 at which LSU won 192.725-190.800. Cal was supposed to travel to face LSU to open the 2022 season, but that got nixed due to Alameda County Covid travel restrictions.

Since there are three other teams, these previews are going to be briefer than usual.

About #38 George Washington (begin on floor):

George Washington comes into this meet 15-11 (eight of their 10 meets have had at least three teams) and on the bubble of a tournament berth. They’re looking to drop a 195.375 in order to help get into the top 36. The reigning EAGL meet champions missed the postseason and finished 39th last year.

If you get a chance to look away from LSU during the meet and watch GWU, you should do it when Deja Chambliss gets ready to vault. The reigning EAGL Gymnast of the Week and team AAI Award nominee is a mainstay in the all-around and scored a 39.550 on both Friday and Sunday. She is t-22nd in the country on vault with a 9.890 NQS (same as Aleah Finnegan’s on the event) and she does a Yurchenko Full, meaning her start value is 9.95 instead of 10. That means she’s averaging the equivalent of a 9.940/10 over her five counting vaults which would rank 3rd behind Haleigh Bryant and Jade Carey who are tied for first at 9.960.

The Colonials rank t-20th with Georgia on vault (49.115), 39th on bars (48.910), 34th on beam (48.975) and t-37th with Central Michigan on floor (49.110).

Margie Foster-Cunningham is in her 38th year as head coach at GWU. She is assisted by associate head coach Stephanie Stoicovy Worrell in her eighth season, assistant coach Chelsea Raineri in her fifth season and volunteer assistant coach Justin Watson in his 18th season.

About #24 Washington (begin on beam):

Washington comes into this meet 4-9 (0-6 Pac-12) and basically locked into the tournament. They’re looking to drop a 196.350, but their counting scores are bunched between that and 196.750. Washington finished 21st in the nation and 6th at Pac-12s last season after a rough 2021 that saw them miss the postseason in 42nd place.

UW’s standout gymnasts are fifth-year senior Amara Cunningham and junior Skylar Killough-Wilhelm. Cunningham sticks to the leg events of vault and floor, though she is much better on the floor. Six of her nine floor performances have scored at least 9.900 this season, and her senior night performance on Sunday earned a 9.975. SKW, as she’s known by Husky faithful, is the standout all-arounder on the roster who is most consistent on bars and floor.

The Huskies rank 23rd on vault (49.085), t-24th with Maryland on bars (49.175), t-29th with Ball State on beam (49.050) and 27th on floor (49.250).

Jen Llewellyn is in her second season in Seattle following a nine-year run at Lindenwood. She is assisted by assistant coach Jeffrey Langenstein in his second season, assistant coach Cody Llewellyn (Jen’s husband) in his second season and volunteer assistant coach Madeline McLellan in her first season in the role.

About #7 Cal (begin on bars):

Cal comes into this meet 9-1-2 (3-1-2 Pac-12) looking to make their way up the ladder with a strong road score. They’re looking to drop a 197.475 that they scored at their opener. Cal finished 11th last season and 2nd at Pac-12s.

The Golden Bears’ star gymnast is freshman eMjae Frazier. She’s an all-arounder who was the team’s top incoming recruit and has done a tremendous job on floor and bars. Another talented all-arounder on the roster is junior Andi Li, who hits on each event consistently.

The Golden Bears rank t-14th with Arkansas on vault (49.270), 4th on bars (49.515), 6th on beam (49.445) and 13th on floor (49.380).

Justin Howell is in his 10th season as Cal’s head coach, and his wife Elisabeth Crandall-Howell has served as co-head coach for five seasons. Both of them are sick and will not be at the meet. The Golden Bears lost their bars coach in the offseason when Janelle McDonald took the head coach job at UCLA. Their new bars coach is John Carney (not the former NFL kicker) and he will be interim head coach. He was Missouri’s bars coach the previous nine seasons. Student assistant Kennedy Quay is the only other coach listed on the team’s website.

About LSU (begin on vault):

The Tigers rank 3rd on vault (49.455), 7th on bars (49.385), 11th on beam (49.320) and 4th on floor (49.485).

Aleah Finnegan and Haleigh Bryant are in the all-around yet again and will be joined by Alyona Shchennikova after she got pulled off beam and floor last week with a groin injury. Elena Arenas could join them in the all-around depending on the final decision with the bars lineup.

On vault, the probable lineup is Elena (9.95 SV), Alyona (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) and Tori Tatum (has trained a 10.0 SV, unclear) listed as alternates. On bars the probable lineup has Alexis leading off, then either Livvy Dunne or Elena (both are listed in the same spot), then Tori, Aleah, Alyona, Haleigh with Ashley Cowan listed as first alternate. On beam, the probable lineup is Elena, Alyona, Alexis, Sierra Ballard, Haleigh, Aleah with Kai Rivers listed as first alternate (would be the first meet she’s missed this season). On floor, the probable lineup is Sierra, Alyona, Chase, Elena, Aleah, Haleigh with Alexis and Kai listed as alternates.

Podium meets are rarely this late in the regular season, so this is a great opportunity to get used to it before SECs in two weeks. LSU will be in a fight with Cal for the meet title more than any other team. It’ll be a weird venue and an interesting night, so the biggest point of emphasis is maintaining momentum.

NQS stuff:

LSU is looking to drop the 197.250 from the Arkansas meet and replace it with tonight’s score. Their current NQS is 197.575. Here are some relevant score checkpoints and what LSU’s NQS will be if they reach them.

197.275: 197.580

197.500 (Auburn score): 197.625

197.700 (UGA score): 197.665

197.975 (Alabama score): 197.720

198.100+ (maximum possible NQS): 197.745