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LSU vs Kentucky Meet Recap

That’s much more like it!

Well then, that was pretty solid. LSU opened SEC play with a bang Friday night and ended Kentucky’s regular-season winning streak at 3 with a 198.125-197.600 win to move to 1-0 in the SEC. LSU led after each rotation in a meet that wasn’t in any serious doubt once beam went without a hitch. The win marked head coach Jay Clark’s 50th at LSU and 99th for his career, and it was the earliest 198 in SEC history. The broadcast said it was the first 198 in the country, but LSU got beat to the punch there by Ball State, David Letterman’s alma mater, who did so at the most controversially judged meet in quite some time.

Haleigh Bryant named SEC Gymnast of the Week

LSU keeps raking in those weekly awards. Haleigh put up a 39.825 in the all-around, her third 39.8+ AA score ever. April Burkholder is the only other LSU gymnast with three 39.8s. Haleigh won 3 individual titles in the meet, and that put her in sole possession of 8th in LSU history. Haleigh is within striking distance of one major career milestone: career AA titles. She won her 21st on Friday, and the school record is Rheagan Courville’s 26. There’s plenty of time this season for her to at least tie it. Also, just to get this out of the way now, Haleigh’s bars 10 extended her record to 11 career 10s. She is the second LSU gymnast with multiple bars 10s; Sarah Finnegan was the first.

Anyway, let’s get right into things. Here’s the standard preamble: the links will take you to a thread of all six routines from a given rotation, scores in parenthesis reflect my personal judgment of deductions and scores in brackets reflect my overall score of the routine. Just so y’all don’t have to go back and do the math, I judged LSU to have put up a 196.100 in each of their first two meets. I judged this meet to be a 197.400, and I feel like that reflects the jump in quality.

LSU Vault 49.525 (LSU leads 49.525-49.450)

This was a solid start. KJ Johnson led off with a 9.850 on a 9.90/9.80 split on her Yurchenko Full. She had clear underrotation (.1), but she stuck the vault while using the underswing of her arms to maintain balance (.05). She held the finishing position for a full second. This was solid, but it just needed to flair out a bit more to be perfect. [9.800]

Amari Drayton followed with her Yurchenko 1.5 (Y1.5) and scored a 9.875. She took a controlled step forward (.1), took a controlled step backward (.1) into the finishing position and failed to hold the finishing position for a full second (.05). She’s done better, not much more to say there. [9.750]

Savannah Schoenherr followed with a 9.925 on her Y1.5. She barely moved her left foot (.05) and had to move her torso a bit to keep her balance (.05), but she held the finishing position for a full second and looked very solid. This is the stuff she did consistently at Florida. [9.900]

Chase Brock made her debut in place of Aleah Finnegan, who was limited to beam with a wrist injury, and scored a 9.500 on a 9.60/9.40 split on her Y1.5. She was extremely close to sticking it, but she clearly underrotated it (.1), took 4+ steps back (.4, all steps beyond 4 don’t count), used some arm movements to maintain her balance (.05) and never got to the finishing position (.05). She was apparently out of the gym last week, so this is one of those things that could get fixed with more reps. [9.400]

Kiya Johnson hit her Yurchenko double for a 9.900. She had some leg separation in her first flight (.05), slightly underrotated the vault (.05) and had to slide her right foot back (.05), bit she held the finishing position for a full second and kept herself off the directional guidelines. Good stuff. [9.850]

Haleigh finished things off with a 9.975 on her front handspring (FHS) front pike half. She had to fight against her momentum extremely hard in her stick (.05) and she never brought her heels together (.05), but she held the finishing position for a full second. She doesn’t need gifts on vault to get a 10, so why do the judges feel the need to give them to her? Arianna Patterson did a better version of the same vault in the next rotation, and she got a 9.925. It’s quite annoying. [9.900]

Overall, the landings could’ve been cleaner, but it was a solid start.

LSU Bars 49.450 (LSU leads 98.975-98.950)

This wasn’t as good as last week’s bars rotation, but it was still very solid. Alexis Jeffrey led off with a 9.800. She appeared to hit her first handstand (the camera angle was abysmal for judging that), bent her arms (.05) to catch her Maloney, hit her bail handstand, was short on her final handstand (.05) and finished with a half-in-half-out (HIHO) that had less lateral travel that usual. She hopped back (.1) and failed to hold the finishing position for a full second (.05). It was a solid hit, but it wasn’t at the same level she’s done before. [9.750]

Ashley Cowan followed with a 9.375. She hit her first handstand and looked like she’d hit her Ray, but she couldn’t finish the catch and she fell (.5). She then reset from the start and hit her first handstand, nailed her Ray to immediate overshoot, was short on her final handstand (.05) and stuck her piked-in layout. She failed to hold the finishing position for 1 full second (.05). The biggest thing about this routine was how she recovered from her fall. She didn’t let it phase her in the slightest. [9.400]

Kiya reset everything with a 9.850. She hit her first handstand, bent her arms (.05) to catch her Maloney, hit her bail handstand, hit her third handstand, hit her final handstand and hopped forward (.1) on her piked-in layout. She held the finishing position for a full second. The hop was the result of a hard fight for a stick that just wasn’t going to happen, but the routine did its job. [9.850]

Konnor McClain kept the hits coming with a 9.875. She hit her first handstand, caught her Church cleanly, followed with a good Pak, lacked some precision (.05) on her low-bar half turn and never hit a handstand on either side of the bar (.05), hit her final handstand, stepped back (.1) on her HIHO, stepped forward (.1) to get to the finishing position and failed to hold the finishing position for a full second (.05). Konnor needs to step up when she steps forward instead of stooping down when she steps forward because it’s what’s caused me to deduct her for not holding the finishing position. Other than that, it was decent. Jay said the goal is get her to spot the landing more than to stick the landing. [9.650]

Sav finished her best night as a Tiger with another 9.925. She hit her first handstand, bent her arms (.05) to catch her Jaeger, had an arch (.05) in her second handstand, hit her third handstand, nailed her bail handstand, hit her final handstand and stuck her double front half. She held the finishing position for a full second. This was a fantastic routine reminiscent of her Florida days. More of those, please. [9.900]

Haleigh finished things off with a 10. There were no issues on anything. She hit her first handstand, nailed her Jaeger, hit her second handstand, hit her bail handstand, hit her final handstand and stuck her double front half. She remembered to bring her heels together in the stick unlike on her first 10 and she held the finishing position for a full second. Judges do not need to give Haleigh Bryant gifts because she is the gift. [10.0]

Overall, this was a great example of the point I made last week about how Alexis and Kiya are the two leads on bars. Kiya reset everything after Ashley’s fall and everyone else reacted accordingly.

LSU Beam 49.425 (LSU leads 148.400-148.325)

Beam team hit! Sierra Ballard got put in the lead spot the day before the meet, and she delivered a strong start with a 9.900. She started with a great back handspring (BHS) layout step-out (LOSO), followed with a beautiful full turn, did a short sissonne (.05) to short switch half (.05), had momentum carry through her kickover front (.05) and finished with a roundoff (RO) back 1.5 on which she took a slight step forward (.05). The camera zoomed in too far for me to see if she stepped back, so I’m assuming she got to the finishing position with no further deductions. She held the finishing position for a full second. This was an awesome start, and it was great to see Sierra translate the energy she uses to lead floor to lead beam. [9.850]

Annie Beard followed up with a 9.875. She started with a stupendous BHS LOSO, hit a good full turn, hit her switch leap to a hit but cheated (.05) straddle half and bobbled slightly (.05) to her beat jump, had a nice side aerial and finished with a stuck cat leap to gainer full. She held the finishing position for a full second. This was a fantastic routine that showed off why Annie’s considered a valuable part of the beam lineup’s success. Hopefully this is the norm. [9.900]

Konnor followed up with a 9.800 on a reworked beam routine. She began with a hit split jump to hit switch half, had a leg form issue (.05) in her front aerial to a nice BHS, hit her wolf jump, bobbled (.05) on her full turn, bobbled (.05) on her side aerial and hopped forward (.1) after trying to stick her gainer full. She failed to hold the finishing position for a full second (.05). Her original routine was extremely difficult, and she agreed to water it down for now so she could get used to competing in front of the intimidating SEC crowds. It worked, but it needs to get cleaner. [9.700]

Kiya continued the clean rotation with a 9.900. She hit a good full turn, did a great BHS LOSO, hit her split jump to split jump, had a balance issue (.05) on her front toss and moved her foot back slightly (.05) on her RO back double full, but she slid her heels together for the stick and held the finishing position for a full second. She looked far more comfortable than she did in the first two meets. [9.900]

Haleigh followed with her worst score of the night: a 9.900. She hit her front aerial to BHS like usual, her hit switch leap to straddle quarter, had a check (.05) on her full turn, landed with her hips at her knees (.05) on her standing front, hit her split jump and finished with a stuck standing punch Rudi. She held the finishing position for a full second. No matter what happened next, LSU finally had 5 hit beam routines in the same rotation. [9.900]

Aleah finished things off with a 9.850 to make it 6/6. She had a slight lean (.05) on her BHS LO LOSO, hit her switch leap to split jump, hit a beautiful full turn, leaned (.05) and waved her arms (.05) to keep her balance on her side aerial and stuck her gainer full with a slight balance check (.05). She held the finishing position for a full second. This was a good routine, but hopefully she can get the wrist issue sorted out and get back to her other events in due time. [9.800]

Overall, they finally hit a beam rotation. I was shocked when Sierra was listed as the lead, but I was extremely encouraged by the way she performed in that spot. She and Annie lit the fuse that led to a great set of routines.

LSU Floor 49.725 (LSU wins 198.125-197.600)

This was utterly ridiculous. Sierra led things off with a 9.875 that got underscored. She nailed her double layout (DLO), hit a good back 1.5 to front layout (FLO), hit her switch ring, was short on her switch half (.05) and nailed her double pike. This was one of her best floor routines ever and she got hammered for things that others don’t. It’s rare that I say a score is ridiculously low, but this is a prime example. [9.950]

Konnor told coach Courtney McCool Griffeth that floor was next after the quad meet in Utah, and she delivered a 9.925. She started with a great DLO, hit her switch leap to switch full and finished with some soft knees (.05) in her back 1.5 to FLO. This was unbelievably close to a perfect routine especially for her first time. [9.950]

KJ kept the party going by tying her career high with a 9.950. She nailed her full-in, had a slight lack of control (.05) coming out of her back 1.5 to FLO, hit a great switch side to Popa and finished with a perfect double tuck. The crowd chanted “10” after it, and it was literally half a foot away from deserving it. Wow. [9.950]

Amari took Aleah’s spot in the lineup and delivered a 9.900. She slid back (.05) on her DLO, nailed her front through to double tuck, kept good balance on her wolf turn, hit her switch ring and was short on her switch half (.05). I am officially in love with this routine, by the way. She performs this routine with some much flair. [9.900]

Haleigh clinched the all-around title with this 9.950. She took a cross step (.1) out of her front double front, hit her switch leap, cheated the turn (.05) on her hit switch full, hit her back LOSO, hit her front aerial and nailed her FLO to Rudi. I’m concerned about the execution of the front double front. She usually nails that skill, but she hasn’t had a clean landing on the skill all season going back to Gym 101. [9.850]

LSU was sitting on a 198.000 after Haleigh’s score flashed, and Jay was thinking of ending the meet right there, but he thought Kiya needed to get some experience on floor at home. She scored a 10. She slid back on her full-in, hit a gorgeous back 1.5 to FLO, hit her switch side to Popa and ended things with a perfect double pike. She was beaming with happiness at the end, and while this wasn’t a routine that deserved a 10 based on its execution, it was a routine that deserved a 10 based on the vibes. This was Kiya’s eighth career 10, which brought her past Lloimincia Hall and into a tie with April Burkholder for 4th in LSU history. It was also her 5th floor 10, which broke a tie with Burkholder and Ashleigh Gnat to be in sole possession of the second-most floor 10s in LSU history behind Hall’s 7. 53 weeks after tearing her Achilles against Kentucky, Kiya scored her third consecutive PMAC season-debut floor 10, 2021 vs Arkansas and 2022 vs Auburn, against Kentucky. Most fittingly of all, she did so wearing the butterfly, a symbol of renewed hope. [9.950]

This was the third-best LSU floor score ever, and I was shocked that it held up on rewatch. I got a score of a 49.700 for the rotation and was blown away by the level of execution in every aspect. The tumbling was great, the energy was unbelievable and the leaps were as good as usual. Most teams need about a month to look this good on floor, but LSU didn’t.

Overall thoughts:

This team looks so good right now, it’s actually unreal. Floor is a problem for teams early in the season, but LSU’s made it look easy. They finally broke through on beam, but it remains to be seen if that’s going to continue. I have confidence it will, but I need evidence to confirm it. The depth keeps showing up, too. LSU has not set their lineup yet on any event, and they still manage to look this good. The important part is maintaining this growth. LSU should have a lower score at Missouri since it’s a road meet, but the biggest part is going to be showcasing a similar performance quality.