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LSU vs Ohio State Meet Recap

Beam is an evil virus of Satan

Breathe a sigh of relief; the Tigers pulled out the win. LSU opened their season Friday with a banner drop, a new lighting sequence before the final rotation and a win. They beat #14 Ohio State 196.975-196.775 in a meet that was closer than it needed to be. The Tigers notched their highest season-opening score since 2018 despite counting a fall.

SEC Weekly Awards Winners Haleigh Bryant and Amari Drayton

Haleigh Bryant led the nation in the all-around with a 39.675, .050 higher than fellow SEC gymnast Raena Worley who tied for second place. Amari Drayton earned SEC Co-Freshman of the Week honors alongside Ady Wahl of Georgia. LSU hadn’t had an SEC Freshman of the Week winner since KJ Johnson won it to open up the 2022 season. She is also a Texan gymnast that wears compression sleeves on her calves who scored at least 9.900 on vault and floor in the season opener at home, among many other coincidences. Neither Arkansas nor Florida competed in week 1.

Alyona Shchennikova out for the season

Alyona Shchennikova was on the floor with her left leg wrapped heavily and riding a push scooter. It looked like the result of an Achilles tear, and it was. Alyona tore her Achilles on the Monday prior to the meet on vault, an event on which gymnasts rarely suffer such an injury. She was getting ready to start her fifth year of competition, and this will give her the chance to use a medical redshirt to compete next season if she chooses.

For readers who wish to follow along to my notes on each routine, you can click the link on each event for a thread that includes each routine in chronological order. Scores in brackets reflect my judgment of the routine, and scores in parenthesis represent what I deducted to come to that conclusion.

LSU Vault 49.375; Ohio State Bars 49.125

LSU started the meet strongly. KJ Johnson led with the only Yurchenko Full (YF) of the lineup and scored a 9.825. She took a step back (.1), had to move her arms to maintain her balance (.05), took a step forward (.1) to get to the finishing position and held the finishing position for a full second.

Amari followed with a 9.925 on her Yurchenko 1.5. She took a stutter step with her left foot (.025 since I doubt the judge on the other side would’ve seen it), had to move her torso slightly to maintain her balance (.05) and failed to hold the finishing position for a full second (.05). Other than that, this was a phenomenal vault, especially when you remember that she was used to compete a Yurchenko Double (DTY). [9.875]

Aleah Finnegan followed with an Omelianchik instead of the Y1.5 head coach Jay Clark mentioned she was going to do during the season. This was a late change made to protect her wrists. She scored a 9.875 on a vault that she threw out slightly late. She steeped back (.1), stepped forward to her finishing position (.1) and failed to hold the finishing position for a full second (.05). This was a decent vault, especially because she’d only trained it extensively for three days prior to the meet. [9.750]

Savannah Schoenherr made her official LSU debut, a real sentence, with her Y1.5 and scored a 9.625. She came inches from sitting the vault (.3), took a step back (.1) to get to the finishing position and held that position for a full second. It was her first competition routine in over a year and a half. [9.600]

For the first time since senior night 2022, Kiya Johnson competed in the PMAC. She went for her DTY and scored a 9.800 on a 9.85/9.75 split. There was clear leg separation in the first flight, the part on the vault (.05), a very clear underrotation (.1), a step forward resulting from the underrotation (.1) and a step back (.1) to the finishing position through which her momentum carried (.05). She held the finishing position for the full second. This vault was, to put it bluntly, horribly overscored. It wasn’t a bad vault, but that doesn’t mean it deserved a 9.800. The 9.75 is only possible if every deduction is reduced to .05, and that’s not how the code works. I’m going to point this out now so I don’t have to do it for later routines. [9.600]

Haleigh finished things off with her famous front handspring (FHS) front pike half. She had a bit of a hop back on the landing (.1, could see how judges give it a .05) and scored a 9.950, a score that ended up winning her the vault title for the meet. Haleigh now has 24 vault titles in her career, breaking a tie she had for fourth place with April Burkholder and Angie Topham. She needs two more to tie Sandra Smith for third. [9.900]

Overall, this was a solid vault rotation. That’s understating it a bit, it was the highest vault score of week 1, just beating Oklahoma’s by .025.

LSU Bars 49.375; Ohio State Vault 49.300 (LSU leads 98.750-98.450)

LSU had a solid second rotation, too. Alexis Jeffrey led off with a 9.900 on a 9.95/9.85 split. She hit her first handstand, bent her arms to catch her Maloney (.05), hit her bail handstand, was short on her final handstand (.05) and stuck her half-in-half-out (HIHO) dismount. She held the finishing position for a full second. If Alexis were in the 5 spot, she’d get 10s. [9.900]

Ashley Cowan followed with a 9.800. She hit her first handstand, followed with a nice Ray to immediate overshoot, hit her final handstand and finished with a step back (.1) on her piked-in layout. She stepped forward (.1) to the finishing position and failed to hold it for a full second (.05). It was nearly flawless until the dismount, but it was a solid performance for the second spot. [9.750]

Kiya Johnson was next with a 9.925. She hit her first handstand, had a little bit of leg separation (.05) and bent her arms (.05) to catch her Maloney, nailed her bail handstand, hit her final handstand and stuck her piked-in layout, then held the finishing position for a full second. She exploded after holding it, and she absolutely earned that for a routine that ended up winning her the night’s bars title. This is Kiya’s 41st career individual title, which breaks a tie for 15th in LSU history with Jennifer Lyerly. She needs one more to tie Kennedi Edney for 14th all-time. [9.900]

Konnor McClain made her NCAA debut with a 9.825. She hit her first handstand, caught her Church close (.05) with bent arms (.05), hit her second and third handstands, had some leg separation in her pak (.05), hit her final handstand and took a step back (.1) on her HIHO. She stepped forward (.1) to get to the finishing position which she failed to hold for a full second (.05) because she kept her legs bent after stepping forward. This was a solid routine, even if the judges didn’t deduct it to the lengths it should’ve, and is the start of something great. [9.500]

Sav was next on bars and put up a solid 9.850. She hit her first handstand, nailed her Jaeger, hit her second handstand, hit her bail handstand, nailed her final handstand and hopped back on her double front half (.1). She held the finishing position for a full second. Apparently there were foot form issues on the dismount, but I never noticed them. [9.900]

Haleigh finished things off with a 9.875. Everything up to the dismount, her first handstand, Jaeger, second handstand, bail handstand and final handstand, was fantastic. However, she hopped back (.1) on her double front half, a skill on which she tends to flex her feet, hence the other .05 deduction. She held the finishing position for a full second. [9.900]

Overall, this was a solid second rotation. There are small tweaks to work on, for sure, but it was fine beyond that.

LSU Beam 48.700; Ohio State Floor 49.300 (Ohio State leads 147.725-147.450)

This was a tale of two halves: a weak first half and a strong second half. Alexis led off with a 9.775. She began with a good wolf turn, hit a nice cat leap to switch side with flexed feet (.05), had a large balance check on her back handspring (BHS) layout step-out (LOSO) series (.05 for arm swing, .05 for torso movement), landed her standing front with her hips at her knees (.05), and finished with a noticeable leg form issue (.05) to start an eventually stuck round-off (RO) back 1.5. She held the finishing position for a full second. This wasn’t what she’s capable of at all, but it’s better to get those jitters out early than have them pop up late. [9.750]

Then came Sierra Ballard’s 9.200. She had a leg form issue (.05) in the BHS LOSO before swinging her arms (.05) in a failed attempt at maintaining her balance when her left foot landed a bit off the beam, and then she fell (.5). She remounted the beam, nailed a beautiful full turn, was short on her sissonne (.05) and switch half (.05), drilled her kickover front and finished with a step forward (.1) on her RO back 1.5. She stepped back (.1) into the finishing position and held it for a full second. She did so well in warm-ups, but these things happen.

Unfortunately, this was not the thing to have before Konnor was to make her debut, and she ended up with an 8.950 that I’m not going to score. She started with a hit switch leap to short split jump that ended a tad off before heading into her BHS BHS two-foot layout triple series. She underrotated the layout and fell, forcing LSU to count the 9.200. She finished with a beautiful full turn, a balance check on her side aerial and a stuck gainer full. She held the finishing position for a full second. It was the worst possible situation for her to be in, and this was a fall that anyone watching knew was possible the second she tried it. It’s not worth taking out of the routine at all.

Thankfully Haleigh Bryant came in to save everything with a 9.925. It was a 10 until the dismount thanks to a great front aerial to BHS, hit switch leap to straddle quarter, beautiful full turn and superb standing front. All that happened at the end was a slight hop (.05, won’t disagree with .1) on the standing punch Rudi dismount. That gym slam is coming soon, and I hope that she can save the beam 10 for a home meet. [9.950]

Kiya then put up a 9.850 despite cramping up in both calves on the mount because gymnasts have a pain tolerance no mere mortal can understand. She was slightly off on her full turn (.05), slightly off on her BHS LOSO (.05), then hit her switch leap to switch leap, nailed her front toss with impeccable execution and finished by taking a couple of stutter steps (.05 each) on her RO back double full. She failed to hold the finishing position for a full second (.05). Kiya rushed through some of her choreography, but considering the fact that she cramped up, it’s a miracle this even finished. [9.750]

Aleah finished things off with a 9.950. She began with a beautiful BHS BHS LOSO, hit her switch leap to split jump, hit her full turn, had a slight yet noticeable lean on her front aerial (.05) and stuck her gainer full. She held the finishing position for a full second. She’s back, and it’s hard to praise her when the norm is literally world class. This was the beam title-winning routine. [9.950]

Overall, this was a tough rotation, but the back half of the lineup salvaged a good enough score to keep the Tigers in contention. Give credit to the three leaders of the team for doing what they do best: hit.

LSU Floor 49.525; Ohio State Beam 49.050 (LSU wins 196.975-196.775)

Had both teams matched their averages from the 2023 season on each event, LSU would’ve won the meet by the slimmest of margins. Unfortunately, LSU ended up benefitting from a very scary fall of Ohio State’s own on beam. Third competitor Jojo Warga hit her shoulder on the beam during her routine, and that killed any momentum the Buckeyes had. I hope she’s doing better. Anyway, onto the less somber stuff, the LSU floor party that followed the new lighting sequence that coincided with the SEC Network’s commercial break.

Sierra kicked things off with a 9.900. She nailed her double layout (DLO), nailed her back 1.5 to front layout (FLO), hit her switch ring, was a tad short on her switch half (.05) and finished with a great double pike that apparently had foot form issues, the only explanation possible for this not being higher. She could be getting consistent 10s later in the lineup, but that just forces the judges to loosen up from a higher standard. That beam fall couldn’t shake the unflappable spirit that she unleashes whenever she performs on floor. [9.950]

Livvy Dunne made her return to the floor lineup for the first time since the 3/31/22, a meet only worthy of a date and no further discussion. She began with a great front through to double tuck, hit her switch leap, had 0 head release on her switch ring (.05), had a fine Y-turn and finished with a slide back (.05) on her double pike. Livvy put in a ton of training in the offseason and showed serious dedication to making the lineups, and it paid off in droves.

KJ followed up with a 9.850. She started with a decently underrotated (.1) full in on which she hopped forward (.1), followed with a back 1.5 to FLO on which she slid forward (.05), hit her switch side to Popa and finished with a nice double tuck that had a slight slide back (.05). It was nice to see her back doing what she loves, and I will admit that both of the slides I took were extremely tight compared to the standard of SEC judges. [9.750]

Aleah finished her night with a 9.900 on a 9.95/9.85 split. She slightly underrotated (.05) her double Arabian and stepped back (.1), hit her switch ring to tour jete half, absolutely nailed her 2.5 to front tuck and hit her final switch leap to get herself to a 10.0 start value. Most impressively of all, she managed to one-up last year’s routine. She took the performance to another level and showed off the superstar she is. [9.800]

Haleigh finished up her night with a 9.925. She slightly underrotated (.05) her front double front and had a slight hop back (.05), hit her switch leap, hit her switch full, hit her back layout to front aerial and finished off with a superb FLO to Rudi. This routine is going to earn her a 10 this year, but the 9.925 clinched the all-around title. Haleigh broke a tie with Sandra Smith to take sole possession of 5th in LSU history with 20 career all-around titles. She needs two more to tie Ashleigh Clare-Kearney for fourth. Speaking of ties, the two individual titles gave Haleigh 62 for her career, tied with Ashleigh Gnat and Jennifer Wood for 8th in LSU history. She needs four more to tie Jennifer Beadle for seventh. [9.900]

Amari Drayton stepped in for Kiya Johnson on floor for a routine LSU didn’t end up needing in the end, but she showed off with a 9.925 of her own. She had a bit of a low chest (.05) on her DLO, had a front through to double tuck with a low chest (.05), a great wolf turn and a good switch ring to switch half. She wasn’t as showy as she’s capable of, there was a bit of restraint, but that’s probably due to the last minute nature of the performance. She still delivered an absolute banger of a routine in the face of all that. [9.900]

Overall, this was stupendous. It scored higher than any week 1 floor performance, it came in clutch and it showed that there’s a ton of stuff worthy of hype.

Overall thoughts:

A near 197 counting a fall is nothing to scoff at, and neither is a comeback win at home to open things up. If that’s how floor looks most of the season, this team is going to be extremely enjoyable. If that’s how bars looks most of the season, things are trending up. If that’s how beam looks most of the season, this team is doomed, so hopefully it’s a fluke.

The next stop for the Tigers is a familiar venue with an unfamiliar surface. LSU will be at the Maverik Center in West Valley City, Utah, for the ESPN Events Invitational. They competed in the venue for regionals in 2021, but those regionals were not held on a podium like this upcoming meet.