Three words sum today up better than any other: survive and advance.
After battling through the adversity of the regular season, the #6 LSU Tigers gymnastics team begins their tournament push at Magness Arena in Denver in the first regional semifinal of the 2023 Denver Regional. They’ll face #11 Oregon State, unseeded Georgia and unseeded Nebraska at 3:00 p.m. on ESPN+. The Tigers need to finish in the top half of this semifinal to advance to the regional final on Sunday. I previewed all eight other teams in the Denver Regional yesterday, so most of the information that’s in here about the other three teams comes from that. Note that the numbers by the unseeded teams indicate their rankings by NQS, as do each team’s individual event rankings.
LSU’s history against each team:
LSU is 17-14-1 all-time against Nebraska and 12-12 on neutral floors. The two teams last met on the same floor at 2018 Super 6 at which LSU won 197.8375-196.8000. LSU is 43-71-2 all-time against Georgia and 25-37-1 on neutral floors (including SECs). The two teams last met on the same floor on February 3 when LSU won the home meet 197.700-196.925. LSU’s 3rd place finish at SECs extended their win streak over the GymDogs to 19 straight. LSU is 17-8-1 all-time against Oregon State and 12-5 on neutral floors. The two teams last met on the same floor in a 2020 tri-meet in Corvallis that included Arizona State in which LSU beat the Beavers 196.800-196.700.
#23 Nebraska (196.730 NQS, 13-13 overall, finished 6th at Big 10s, starting on vault)
2022 finishes: 38th overall, 7th at Big 10s
Program overview: 0 NCAA team titles, best finish ever: 4th (’89, ’00, ’03, ’11), 23 conference championships (12 Big 8, 9 Big 12, 2 Big 10, last in ’13), 5 individual NCAA titles (last was Richelle Simpson in AA and on floor in ’03), 26 nationals appearances (last in ’18), 12 Super 6 appearances (last in ’18), 0 Four on the Floor appearances
Event rankings: 25th on vault (49.165), 24th on bars (49.240), t-27th with Ball State on beam (49.155), 32nd on floor (49.275).
Preview: The Cornhuskers are back in the tournament for the first time since 2019 after missing the last two tournaments for the first time since 1985. In 2020, the NCAA sanctioned Nebraska for illegally paying for choreography and violating the organization’s limitations on coaches. The program went into a freefall that they’ve managed to control and are back on the path to being good again. They put up their first 197 in over 3 years on March 3, finished second in their session of Big 5 over Minnesota and Ohio State and was 0.100 behind Denver in their home finale. They’re an okay team, but they’re here and that’s the biggest thing of all. Deja Chambliss of George Washington qualified as an all-arounder and will rotate with Cornhuskers during this session.
Whom to watch for: Emma Spence is Nebraska’s only gymnast ranked in the top 30 on anything. She ranks 27th in the AA with a 39.480 NQS. She’s done the all-around at every meet and has a season high of 9.975 on bars. She’s scored 9.750 in 42 of her 44 routines and has scored at least 39.000 in the AA in every meet.
#19 Georgia (196.955 NQS, 6-18 overall, finished 8th at SECs, starting on bars)
2022 finishes: 30th overall, 8th at SECs
Program overview: NCAA-record 10 team titles (last in ‘09), 16 SEC titles (last in ‘08), NCAA-record 42 individual NCAA titles (last were Brandie Jay on bars and Brittany Rogers on beam in ‘16), 35 nationals appearances (last in ’19), 20 Super 6 appearances (last in ’16), 0 Four on the Floor appearances
Event rankings: t-19th with West Virginia on vault (49.195), t-14th with Arizona State on bars (49.350), 23rd on beam (49.210), t-20th with Maryland on floor (49.375).
Preview: The GymDogs are having a much better season than 2022. They won a home meet over an SEC opponent unlike last year with an upset win over a Kentucky team that’s really good and nearly upset Alabama when the Tide were low. Despite that, their season high on the road is the 196.925 from the LSU meet on February 3rd and they haven’t been much of a threat to better teams having decent days. Their best chance of advancing comes if they get some help from either of the seeded teams. Two individuals will rotate with Georgia, both of whom are Northern Illinois gymnasts. Alyssa Al-Ashari will compete on bars and beam and Emmalise Nock will compete on floor.
Whom to watch for: Haley De Jong is UGA’s best all-arounder whose best event is bars. Her scores don’t pop off the page thanks to the mixture of 9.8s and 9.9s alongside the sub-9.8 scores on all events but bars, but she’s a solid performer who’s done 47 of a possible 48 routines this season.
#11 Oregon State (197.490 NQS, 15-7-2 overall, finished 4th at Pac-12s, starting on floor)
2022 finishes: 17th overall, 3rd at Pac-12s
Program overview: 0 team titles, best finish ever: 4th (’82 and ’91), best finish since 1998: 6th (‘19), 6 Pac-10/12 titles (last in ’13), 6 individual NCAA titles (last was Amy Durham on floor in ’93), 26 nationals appearances (last in ’19), 2 Super 6 appearances (’95 and ’96), 0 Four on the Floor appearances
Event rankings: 16th on vault (49.285), 21st on bars (49.300), 4th on beam (49.565), 8th on floor (49.510).
Preview: Oregon State is a good team, but their NQS is a bit misleading. The highest score the Beavers are counting in their NQS is 197.950, 0.400 higher than the next highest score they’re counting. This is a team that tends to score in the 197.200-197.500 range with the potential to score in the high 197 range on a really good day. They put up a 197.200 at Pac-12s after putting up 197.550+ in the three prior meets. Their tendency to score in the low-middle 197s could work in their favor if someone slips up in regional finals, but their capability of scoring very well on a good day makes them a threat. As for this semifinal, that decent score should be enough to advance. Two individuals will rotate with Oregon State. George Washington’s Kendall Whitman will compete on floor and Northern Illinois’ Natalie Hamp will compete on bars.
Whom to watch for: Jade Carey. She’s a former Olympian who won gold on floor in Tokyo and has a decorated elite career. She’s absolutely dominated since her NCAA debut last season. On March 4, she became the 13th NCAA gymnast ever to earn a gym slam with her first career 10 on beam, completing an in-season gym slam in the process. Her individual rankings are as follows: 2nd on vault (9.960), t-4th on bars (9.965), 2nd on beam (9.975), 1st on floor (9.985) and 1st in AA (39.820). She’s absurdly talented.
#6 LSU (197.840 NQS, 13-7 overall, finished 3rd at SECs, starting on beam)
2022 finishes: 18th overall, 5th at SECs
Event rankings: 3rd on vault (49.500), 9th on bars (49.420), 10th on beam (49.415), t-3rd with Oklahoma and Michigan on floor (49.595).
Preview: First and foremost, no individuals will rotate alongside LSU. The Tigers have battled through adversity all season to get to this point. Injury after injury, setback after setback, they’ve embodied the spirit of the climb. It’s easy to think that the results of the last two years might indicate what’s to come this year, but head coach Jay Clark shut that down in his press conference Monday. He said they’re a completely different team that has a different mindset than those teams. As for the lineups themselves, there’s very little room for change. The second spot on bars is the most likely spot in which he would make a change, and that’s indicated in the meet notes. Haleigh Bryant, Aleah Finnegan and Alyona Shchennikova (whose expected to have an entourage of supporters) are expected to be in the all-around as usual.
On beam, the probable lineup is Elena Arenas, Alyona, Alexis Jeffrey, Sierra Ballard, Haleigh, Aleah with Bryce Wilson listed as alternate. On floor, the probable lineup is Sierra, Alyona, Chase Brock, Elena, Aleah, Haleigh (who will not do her front double full) with Livvy Dunne listed as alternate. On vault, the probable lineup is Elena, Alyona, Chase, Aleah, Bryce, Haleigh with Alexis listed as alternate. On bars, the probable lineup begins with Alexis, then will see either Livvy or Ashley Cowan, then Tori Tatum, Aleah, Alyona, Haleigh with Elena listed as alternate. Jay said that his gut feeling was to keep Livvy in that second spot, but that’s not certain.
If the Tigers do their normal gymnastics, they should advance to regional finals. They need a solid start on beam and a solid finish on bars while not getting caught up in trying to do too much on floor and vault. They have the talent and the mindset to advance to Sunday, there’s no denying any of that. It doesn’t matter if they win this meet or come in second, it only matters that they keep climbing.