The climb is over. Time to take in the sights.
The LSU Tigers gymnastics team finished one of the grittiest seasons in program history at their second Four on the Floor with a 197.5250, an improvement over their score from the national semifinal. Unfortunately, they finished fourth behind Utah with a 197.9375, Florida with a 198.2375 and repeating champions Oklahoma with a national championship meet record-tying 198.3875. The Sooners won their sixth championship in the last nine seasons including their tie with Florida in 2014 and have cemented themselves as the sport’s new dynasty. As for the Tigers, this was a nice way to end the season despite the score. They won by making it this far and sending out many of their seniors with a team trophy and a new banner.
A quick rant about the broadcast
I had the great fortune of watching the meet at Dickies Arena, so I was not subjected to the utterly abhorrent broadcast of LSU. I saw several complaints on Twitter about LSU not being shown on the broadcast, so I decided to go back and check. Of a possible 24 routines for each team, ABC showed 9 from LSU, 17 from Utah and 22 each from OU and Florida. LSU got shown thrice in the first rotation, four times in the second, twice in the third and zero times in the fourth despite going lights-out and finishing with a stuck vault from the top vaulter by average and NQS in the nation. Many argued that LSU was far out of the competition and didn’t deserve to be shown, which would be a sufficient argument if it weren’t for the fact that the same was true for Auburn last year and they got their lead vault shown because ABC showed a quad box for the first 30 seconds of the final rotation. This wouldn’t be as much of a problem if the event streams were free and accessible. The event streams were on ESPN+ behind a $10 paywall. LSU has a quad meet early next season, so I hope Jay calls them out on this and makes sure that all four teams get shown at least once each rotation.
Bars 49.3125 (4th after 1)
LSU began with a bars rotation that included some uncharacteristic errors. Alexis Jeffrey led off with a 9.8375 that had an arched opening handstand for the first time all season, bent arms in her Maloney and a HIHO in which she carried her momentum through and stepped backwards out of her salute. Ashley Cowan followed with a 9.8250 that was extremely solid and likely lost for the flexed feet in her Ray, leg separation at the very beginning of her double layout (DLO) and step back on the landing. Tori Tatum closed out her spectacular sophomore glow-up with a 9.8750 that had a short opening handstand, leg separation in her pak and a potentially short final handstand but finished with a stuck HIHO. Aleah Finnegan followed with a 9.8250 that had an arched second handstand and a big step forward on her dismount but was otherwise fine. Alyona Shchennikova kept the good-but-not-great train going with a 9.8000 that never got to handstand in the low bar half turn and had leg separation and a hop forward on her piked-in layout. Haleigh Bryant anchored the rotation by tying the highest bars score at a nationals meet in LSU history with a 9.9500 on a routine that was basically perfect save for the flexed feet in the double front half.
Overall, this was a solid opening rotation. Unfortunately, the other three teams went above 49.5 in their rotations and LSU was at a marked disadvantage going into their worst event.
Beam 49.2375 (4th after 2)
This was the lowest score for an LSU beam rotation since Elena Arenas took over the lead spot and was rougher than expected. Elena began with a 9.4750 despite remaining on the beam the whole time and sticking her round-off (RO) back 1.5. She bobbled upon landing her short switch leap. That meant she couldn’t connect it to a split jump and would be incapable of starting from a 10.0. She decided to follow a hit split jump with a sissonne that she didn’t hit. The problem with that is that a sissonne connected with a split jump fails to earn enough bonus points to start from a 10.0 (SV should be 9.7). I couldn’t see what the judges gave her for a start value, but that explains how she had a score below 9.5 without falling off the beam. Alyona followed up with a 9.8125 that had leg bends in the latter thirds of the front aerial to BHS BHS and short leaps but finished with a stuck BHS gainer full. Alexis scored a 9.8250 in the next spot thanks to a low standing front and a hop forward on her RO back 1.5 for the first time all year. Sierra Ballard scored a 9.8250 of her own thanks to some leg bend in her BHS LOSO, short sissonne and switch half and a step forward on her RO back 1.5. Haleigh followed with a 9.8500 that had a balance check on her standing front and a hop back on her standing punch Rudi, both problems seen before that came back at the most unfortunate time. Aleah finished with the best score of the rotation on a 9.9250 that had a finessed ending to the BHS LO LOSO and momentum carrying through her chest on her gainer full but was otherwise sublime.
Overall, this could’ve gone a lot better. That shyness and timidity on leaps really showed and there were some more uncharacteristic mistakes. LSU was .6500 out of the top spot as OU surged to a 99.2000 score after two. The Sooners were not losing the title and anybody that watched knew they’d need to have a regional finals-esque beam rotation to lose their grasp.
Floor 49.4500 (4th after 3)
Floor team hit with less power than they did in their semifinal. Sierra led off with a 9.8125 in which she had a low chest and kick forward out of her underrotated DLO and some rise out of her back 1.5 to front layout (FLO) that finished with a hit switch half to switch ring. Alyona followed with a solid 9.8500 on which she bounced out of her front double full into her Arabesque and was short on her switch half but was otherwise great. Chase Brock got redemption for her fall in the semifinal by tying her career high with a 9.9250 that was extremely solid save for the usual cheated turn on the switch side to Popa. One thing I noticed was that they flipped the start and end points of her final pass for some reason and had her start close by the area they kept everyone on the team. Elena followed up with a decent 9.8125 that had crossed legs in her FLO to a stutter step out of her front double full, a decently short switch half and some leg separation in her FLO to front full. Aleah brought the hammer with a 9.9250 that looked to have a bigger stag jump than usual and had the often-cheated tour jete half turn. Still, that back 2.5 to front tuck is a thing of beauty and I hope it remains next season. Haleigh finished the rotation with a 9.9375 that had perfect tumbling passes but a potential head release issue on the switch ring and short-looking switch half.
Overall, this was a good rotation, but it was not enough to get back into it. By this point, everyone knew it was going to be a fight to the end between Florida and Oklahoma with the Sooners having the advantage of being on floor and knowing the Gators’ final score after they finished up on bars. The Tigers hadn’t hit vault in quite a while, but they wanted to finish the season strong.
Vault: 49.5250 (finished 4th)
Unfortunately, the people watching on TV missed the entirety of this rotation because ABC was too busy ignoring it. That’s sad since Elena kicked things off with a stuck Yurchenko Full (YF) that had some leg separation in the air and earned a 9.9000. Alyona finished what could be the final meet of her career with an underrotated hop back on her Yurchenko 1.5 (Y1.5) to earn a 9.8250. Chase finished her impressive comeback season with a 9.8875 after hopping forward on her Y1.5. Aleah followed with a 9.8625 on her Omelianchik on which she twisted early, had some shoulder angle and stepped out to salute. Bryce Wilson stepped up big time with a stuck YF that had flexed feet and some potential shoulder angle to score a 9.8875. Haleigh finished this incredible Cinderella season the way it deserved. After struggling the last three meets with her FHS front pike half, she nailed the block and stuck the landing for a 9.9875 to tie the highest vault score in a nationals meet in LSU history. One judge gave it a 9.90 which only makes sense if they were watching the ABC broadcast.
Overall, the vault team hit like there wasn’t any weight on their shoulders. They finished strong and allowed the fans to watch as Oklahoma snatched the trophy away from Florida for the second straight year to cap off a dominant season.
Haleigh Bryant won the all-around title for the meet with a 39.7250, her 12th meet title in the all-around of the season. That’s second to Sarah Finnegan’s 14 in 2019 for most in a season in school history. Before the meet, it was announced that Haleigh was one of four finalists for the Honda Award, the most prestigious award available to all NCAA gymnasts, alongside Kentucky’s Raena Worley, Oregon State’s Jade Carey and Florida’s Trinity Thomas, who tied the NCAA career 10s record with her vault.
With that, this absolutely incredible season comes to a close. This may not have been the way anybody hoped they’d go out, but they didn’t fall. After the meet, the team came over by the LSU fans and were beaming. They didn’t look like a team that came in fourth place, they looked like a team who was grateful to be there. They messed around with the confetti once it fell and made angels in it and carried their fourth-place trophy with honor. In 2022, LSU missed nationals for the first time since 2012 and finished 18th overall. They improved their ranking by 14 spots and finished two spots higher than their seed coming into the tournament. They faced unimaginable adversity and pushed through it each time with the passion and grit most teams can only dream of. They weren’t dominant like 2017 or 2018 and they didn’t win the SEC like 2019, but they were one of the greatest teams in the storied history of LSU gymnastics. The final climb of this 2023 team will come some time before the home opener next season against Ohio State when the 2023 Final Four banner finds its spot next to the 2019 banner. It was never about how fast they got there nor what was waiting on the other side. Forever and always, this will be known as the season about The Climb.