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LSU at National Semifinal I Preview

The climb brings the Tigers back where they belong

The day has finally arrived.

After a tumultuous season, the #6 LSU Tigers are back at nationals for the first time since 2021. They are looking to advance to Four on the Floor for the first time since the first one in 2019. The Tigers are in the first semifinal, opposite the semifinal with #1 Oklahoma, #4 Utah, #5 UCLA and #9 Kentucky. They’ll compete alongside #13 Denver, #7 Cal and #2 Florida at 2:00 p.m. today. ESPN2 will have the traditional broadcast, while ESPN+ will have individual event streams and a stream of all four events at once.

I want to note how I did the event rankings. Instead of using NQS from the regular season, I ranked all eight semifinal teams by taking the five scores they counted in their NQS, adding in the two scores from regionals and dividing by seven. Each team is ranked on each event relative to the eight teams at nationals.

#13 Denver (197.445 NQS, 22-5 overall, finished 2nd at Big 12s, begins on vault)

Regionals scores: Semifinal: 197.450 [49.100 VT, 49.250 UB, 49.500 BB, 49.600 FX]; Final: 197.875 [49.275 VT, 49.550 UB, 49.625 BB, 49.425 FX]

Program overview: 0 team titles, best finish ever: 4th (’19) (note: won 1983 NCAA D2 natty), 4 conference championships (1 WGC, 1 WAC, 1 MRGC, 1 Big 12, last in ’21), 2 individual NCAA titles (last was Lynnzee Brown in ’19), 5th nationals appearance (first since ’19), 0 Super 6 appearances, 1 Four on the Floor appearance (’19)

Event rankings: 7th on vault (49.321), 6th on bars (49.439), 6th on beam (49.479), 8th on floor (49.389)

Preview: Denver is unpredictable to say the least. As I said last time I previewed the Pioneers, they are hit or miss. They showed up at regional finals, but their score was a bit higher than their performance quality. They’re an okay vaulting team that’s sorely missing Rylie Mundell. If they can show up and hit all four events, they can advance. This is not a session with two obvious juggernauts, it’s a tight one.

Whom to watch for: Lynnzee Brown went 39.800 in the regional final and won a share of the 2019 NCAA floor title. She’s as solid as ever, but her 9.950 to lead off beam was anomalous. She’s a treat to watch on floor, though, so watch out.

Individuals with which they’re rotating and semifinal scores: Courtney Blackson (VT, Boise State, 10.0), Emily Lopez (UB, Boise State, 9.950), Alisa Sheremeta (BB, Missouri, 9.950), Elexis Edwards (FX, Ohio State, 9.950)

#2 Florida (198.110 NQS, 24-3 overall, won SEC Championship, begins on bars)

Regionals scores: Semifinal: 197.875 [49.375 VT, 49.525 UB, 49.575 BB, 49.400 FX]; Final: 197.800 [49.300 VT, 49.575 UB, 49.600 BB, 49.325 FX]

Program overview: 3 team titles (last in ’15), 13 SEC championships, 23 individual NCAA titles (Trinity Thomas is reigning NCAA bars, floor and AA champion), 39th nationals appearance (3rd straight), 16 Super 6 appearances (last in ’18), 2 Four on the Floor appearances (’21 and ’22)

Event rankings: 5th on vault (49.389), 2nd on bars (49.607), 1st on beam (49.575), 4th on floor (49.543)

Preview: The big news of the day is that star all-arounder Trinity Thomas is not listed on the official rotation summary. While that doesn’t mean she’s officially out completely, it all but confirms she won’t defend her all-around crown. This puts Florida in quite the interesting situation. They came in second at the Pittsburgh Regional final and were a fall away from missing nationals entirely. The Gators are talented enough to move on without Thomas, but they’re more volatile than ever. Slip ups are enough to end their season this afternoon and they must avoid them at all costs. They should advance, but every team is nipping at their heels.

Whom to watch for: Leanne Wong is the best all-arounder the Gators have left. She’s got the potential to dominate when she’s on and hitting all four events.

Individual with which they’re rotating and semifinal scores: Payton Harris (AA, Ohio State, 39.600 [9.925 VT, 9.900 UB, 9.900 BB, 9.875 FX])

#7 Cal (197.825 NQS, 28-4-2 overall, finished 3rd at Pac-12s, begins on floor)

Regionals scores: Semifinal: 197.250 [48.925 VT, 49.500 UB, 49.275 BB, 49.550 FX]; Final: 198.075 [49.275 VT, 49.525 UB, 49.650 BB, 49.625 FX]

Program overview: 0 team titles, best finish ever: 7th (’16 and ’21), 1 conference championship (1984 NorPac, best finish at Pac-10s/12s: 2nd in ’21 and ’22), 1 individual NCAA title (Maya Bordas on bars in ’21), 5th nationals appearance (first since ’21), 0 Super 6 appearances, 0 Four on the Floor appearances

Event rankings: 8th on vault (49.293), 3rd on bars (49.557), 4th on beam (49.518), 5th on floor (49.521)

Preview: This is not the Cal team that lost to LSU at the River Center in March. That team was missing its head coaches and failed to execute on beam. The Golden Bears are a great beam team and are solid on most events, but vault is where they should be most concerned. They were the only team that advanced to nationals to post a sub-49 rotation score at regionals, and that can’t happen if they want to advance.

Whom to watch for: eMjae Frazier is still the superstar I said she was before the Purple and Gold Podium Challenge. She ended up scoring the program’s first floor 10.0 that night and will be looking to give her team a big boost with a solid all-around performance.

Individuals with which they’re rotating and semifinal scores: Ava Piedrahita (VT, Penn State, 9.900), Cassidy Rushlow (UB, Penn State, 9.950), Gabrielle Stephen (BB, Michigan State, 9.950), Delanie Harkness (FX, Michigan State, 9.925)

#6 LSU (197.840 NQS, 16-8-2 overall, 3rd at SECs, begins on beam)

Regionals scores: Semifinal: 197.375 [49.250 VT, 49.275 UB, 49.325 BB, 49.525 FX]; Final: 197.750 [49.375 VT, 49.525 UB, 49.425 BB, 49.425 FX]

Event rankings: 3rd on vault (49.446), 8th on bars (49.414), t-7th with Kentucky on beam (49.404), 3rd on floor (49.561)

Individual with which they’re rotating and semifinal scores: Chloe Widner (AA, Stanford, 39.550 [9.925 VT, 9.850 UB, 9.925 BB, 9.850 FX])

Preview: Well, it’s that time once again. LSU is back in the national semifinals. The Tigers have gone through one of the roughest seasons in program history and have survived so far. If they want to advance to Four on the Floor, they have to do what’s normal. They can’t be timid on beam, they have to hit vault and they need to finish strong on bars. They have a decent chance of advancing if they do that.

Alyona Shchennikova, Aleah Finnegan and Haleigh Bryant are back in the all-around. 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 with KJ Johnson listed as first alternate and Livvy Dunne listed as second alternate. On vault, the probable lineup is Elena (9.95 SV), Alyona (10.0 SV), Chase (10.0 SV), Aleah (10.0 SV), KJ (9.95 SV), Haleigh (10.0 SV) with Bryce (9.95 SV) listed as alternate. On bars, the probable lineup is Alexis, Ashley Cowan, Tori Tatum, Aleah, Alyona, Haleigh with Livvy listed as alternate.

This is going to be a tight semifinal that’ll be wide open. Florida should be a lock, but not having Trinity Thomas opens the door a bit. The climb has reached the highest of heights, but there’s one checkpoint left before the summit to the peak.