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2023 LSU Gym 101 Recap

So many routines, so many things to say

Gym 101 was over two weeks ago at this point, and it was fantastic. LSU’s annual preseason showcase had a slightly altered format compared to previous years, but it ran as smoothly as ever. The Tigers showcased 50 routines in some way, and only 2 of them had falls. It might have been one of the best Gym 101s in LSU history.

That’s a brief rundown of what happened, but there’s so much more to talk about. This is a team that’s been talked about as having a ton of depth, but seeing it was a different thing entirely. Elena Arenas didn’t compete due to a back issue mentioned in an Instagram Live the day before the event and Kai Rivers didn’t compete due to what head coach Jay Clark described as issues from her Achilles injury. Aleah Finnegan should be an all-around contributor again, but she only did beam as part of their pacing strategy. Other than that, people went on most of their expected events.

Before getting into the recap itself, I need to correct an error I made in the Gym 101 preview and explain what the new 1-second rule is in a bit more detail.

The 1-second rule

The NCAA introduced a 1-second finishing position rule for the 2023 season, and I never talked about it because it wasn’t terribly noteworthy. The rule required gymnasts to hold their final pose on their floor routines for a full second before they could get up and salute the judges or else they’d receive a .05 deduction. That rule’s been expanded to the other three events, but the definition of finishing/finish position, either one works, is different for the other events.

I originally stated that a gymnast had to hold their landing position for at least 1 second before saluting, but that’s incorrect. The finishing position is something else entirely. Here’s a picture of what the National Association of Women’s Gymnastics Judges (NAWGJ) used as an example of the finishing position in a video they uploaded a few weeks ago.

Notice the straight legs, the arms over the head and the way she’s facing the direction of the landing. A gymnast must hold that position for a full second to avoid a .05 deduction. If they turn too early, they get deducted. If they step too early, they get deducted. If their teammates run over and interrupt them before the second has passed, they get deducted. If they fall, they don’t have to worry about this deduction. The NAWGJ’s official video on the rule explains that if there’s a question of whether a gymnast holds for a second, they are to take the deduction, so it must be clear and obvious.

I isolated each routine from the meet and went back to check and see whether each person doing a hard landing on vault, bars and beam held the finish position for 1 second by going frame by frame. I also uploaded each LSU routine to a new Twitter page and created a thread for each event. Vault. Bars. Beam. Floor.

Gym 101 this year went away from the old format in which they went event by event. They instead tried to imitate the new format ESPN introduced for nationals and the format they’ll be using at the ESPN Events Invitational in week 2. They split the team into two groups, one of 11 and another of eight, and had them start on beam and floor and rotate in Olympic order from there since LSU will start on beam week 2. For the first time since the 2023 national finals, it’s time to go in depth on LSU gymnastics routines. Please note that numbers in parenthesis are what I took when I judged the routine for myself, and routines will be paired with my personal judgment of their score in [these brackets].

Rotation 1

Though the meet began with beam and floor first, the first event shown was a floor routine to keep in line with the new format. Ashley Cowan, a former Level 10 floor champion, kicked things off with a solid routine. She threw her front double front out too early and landed with an uncontrolled (.05) step to the side (.1), a step that would not have earned any deductions had it been forward. Her back 1.5 to front layout (FLO) was good, her leap series of a switch half to wolf jump was solid and her final pass of a FLO to Rudi was superb. [9.850]

Next was the debut of Annie Beard on beam after missing the 2023 season with a shoulder injury. Her back handspring (BHS) layout step out (LOSO) series had a bit of leg form issue (.05) but not much, and her full turn was nice. Her switch leap was good and she hit the split on her straddle half, but she had a big balance check on the landing that saw her leg come off the beam (.1, personal judgment on deduction). The rest of the routine was good with a nice side aerial to hit split jump before finishing with a cat leap to stuck gainer full dismount. She held the finishing position for 2 full seconds, not just 1, and became the first person on the night to adhere to the new rule. [9.850]

Kylie Coen, the highly anticipated and highly rated freshman, made her PMAC debut on floor next. She started with a FLO to slightly underrotated (.05) front double full that forced her to take a step (.1) to maintain her balance. She hit a split jump, then hit a good tour jete half to Popa, and then finished with stuck double pike spotted by assistant coach Garrett Griffith, a spot that would incur a deduction in competition that I’m ignoring for judgment purposes. It was a solid routine, but the spot makes me believe that it’s not ready for a competition environment just yet. [9.850]

Next on beam was Alyona Shchennikova. She began with her signature candle mount, then hit a decent full turn, then hit a nice front aerial to BHS BHS. Her switch leap to split jump series had good splits in each, but it ended with a slight bobble (.05). She bobbled slightly (.05) on her side aerial before finishing with a stuck BHS gainer full. She then failed to hold the finishing position for a full second (.05). I predict that will be a common issue across the country in the first month of the season as gymnasts adjust to soaking in the moment instead of celebrating, so I’m not shocked to see it here especially if it helps prevent the problem when scores count. [9.850]

For the first time since March 2022, Livvy Dunne did a floor routine. She slid back (.05) on her front tuck through to double back, appeared to hit her switch leap to switch ring, though it was hard to see from the angles I had, hit a nice Y-turn and finished with a nice double pike out of which she took a step backward and forward (.1), a move that I will be calling a “cross step.” Livvy competed four times, all on bars, last season, but she looked like a woman on a mission in practice and in this impressive performance. [9.850]

Next up was Sierra Ballard on beam, a routine which I will not score because she fell on her BHS LOSO after trying to maintain her balance. When she remounted, she followed with a beautiful full turn, then a short sissonne (.05) to short switch half (.05), then a nice kickover front. She finished with a roundoff (RO) back 1.5 with a step forward (.1) before stepping back (.1) into the finishing position. Judges are supposed to deduct for both steps and for failing to hold the finishing position for a full second like in this case (.05). Falls happen, so flush it and move on.

Up next on floor was Cammy Hall, the sixth-year senior who lost her 2023 season to an Achilles injury the day before Thanksgiving break. She kept the floor music I’d heard in a 2022 intrasquad, an amazing mix that enhanced her performance and was the only piece of floor music I felt was worth praising enough to note it in a recap. I’m not scoring this because if began with a back layout, a skill that’s not worth a bonus and makes it impossible for the routine to start from a 10.0. She hit a good switch side to Popa and was a little low on the front full to front full, but absolutely none of that mattered. She was extremely emotional at the end in a beautiful moment that showed how much it meant to be back and live out a new dream.

Next was the highly anticipated debut of Konnor McClain on beam, the only person whose beam music I felt was important to highlight. “All of the Lights” is the second most incredible beam music I’ve heard behind Georgia gymnast Naya Howard’s choice of “Yeah” by Usher, and it fit the moment. She began with a nice switch leap to short split jump (.05) that reminded me of Trinity Thomas’ splits. She followed up with a BHS BHS layout, and that meant she jumped like a dolphin on the beam and stuck her landing on the beam. She then hit a great full turn, a good side aerial and a stuck gainer full. She failed to hold the finishing position for a full second (.05), and she completed a spectacular beam debut that’ll leave any fan of the sport excited for more. [9.900]

Next was Bryce Wilson on floor using the same routine she showcased in a senior night exhibition in 2023. She overpowered her FLO to front double full (.05) and took a step in bounds (.1) before taking another step (.1) out of bounds (.1). She had a good switch ring to decent switch half and finished with a back 1.5 with form issues (.05) to FLO with a slide forward (.05) on the landing. It wasn’t a great routine by any means, but at least she stayed upright the whole time. [9.550]

Up next was Haleigh Bryant on beam. Her front aerial to BHS was like clockwork, then her switch leap to straddle quarter was decent despite noticeably flexed feet (.05) and a balance check (.05) on the latter skill. She followed with a beautiful full turn, a great standing front and a nice split jump before nailing her standing punch Rudi dismount. She held her finishing position for a full second to avoid a deduction on a tremendous routine. [9.900]

Alexis Jeffrey followed on floor. Her front through to double back was fine save for a cross step (.1), her switch side to Popa had good splits and noticeably flexed feet (.05 each, .1 total), her double wolf turn was solid and her double pike was nice save for a slide back (.05). The routine was about as good as what she showed last year when she was put in as a nearly last resort option. [9.750]

Kiya Johnson made her grand return from injury with a spectacular beam routine. She nailed her full turn, had outstanding form on her BHS BHS LOSO, hit her switch leap to switch leap, hit her front toss as well as usual and finished with a stuck RO back double full, an upgrade from the 1.5 she did previously. Unfortunately, she failed to hold the finishing position for 1 second (.05), and it cost her a perfect score. Still, what a fantastic return to form. [9.950]

Amari Drayton made her debut on floor with a very good routine. She started with an uncontrolled (.05) double layout (DLO) spotted by Garrett that had great form, then hit a good switch ring to switch half, was a little off balance on the wolf turn (not taking) and finished with a nearly stuck double tuck with a low chest on landing (.05). For a first time routine done with a partially torn leotard, this was quite solid. [9.900]

Savannah Schoenherr made her LSU debut, something that’d break the brain of any Tiger fan before it happened, on beam. Her foot came off the beam for just a second (.1) on her front aerial, then she had a nice BHS LOSO followed by a nice full turn and a good switch leap to straddle three-quarter before finishing with RO back 1.5 thrown out too early that forced her to hop back (.1). Her momentum carried through her finishing position (.05), and she failed to hold it for 1 full second (.05). This routine wasn’t perfect, but she also competed beam for a score in a meet since 2021. [9.700]

KJ Johnson finished off the first rotation with a solid floor routine. She did a back layout for her first pass on this run, but she did it separately afterward. I’ve judged the routine as if that stuck full-in happened alongside the rest of it. She followed with a well-controlled back 1.5 to FLO, then hit a nice switch side to Popa and finished with a double back out of which she cross stepped (.1). She looks like she’s back from the foot injury she suffered last year. [9.900]

Overall, this was a great start. Unfortunately, out of the seven people who did a finishing position on beam, only two actually held it for the required length. That’s a total of .350 in unnecessary deductions.

Rotation 2

Each vault rotation included some vaults that were just timers onto a soft landing instead full vaults onto a hard landing, and I’ll separate those from the rest. Tori Tatum and Jillian Hoffman each did a Yurchenko Full (YF). Tori did so after struggling with her Yurchenko 1.5 (Y1.5) in warmups. Jillian made her PMAC debut with something easy so she isn’t being rushed too much following a shoulder surgery from a few months back.

Sierra led off on floor as she usually does. She began with a solid DLO, then a good back 1.5 to FLO, a good switch ring to switch half. She then fell on her double pike, something she talked Jay into doing before the routine. He also gave himself some blame for being a bit too close to her without realizing it. This routine was close to perfect until the fall. She decided to redo the pass once everyone else went and overpowered it out of bounds

Bryce followed with a YF of her own. There was some leg separation in the first flight (.05), the part where she’s on top of the vault table, and she stuck the vault on the left directional guideline (.05), but she held the finishing position for over a full second to avoid the deduction. Good stuff. [9.850]

Sav followed with a floor routine that had noteworthy music. It gave off the feeling of an interpretive dance and was not something I vibed with, but she made it work for her. She began with an underrotated (.05) front double full with a step to the side (.1), did a weird jump that I didn’t understand and won’t judge as a result, hit a nice tour jete half to wolf jump and finished with a nice back 1.5 to FLO. Sav hasn’t done floor very often throughout her career, but this showed promise for a depth routine. [9.850]

Up next was Cammy on vault with a Y1.5. There was major leg separation (.05) in the first flight, then a major underrotation (.1), a step back (.1), a step forward to the finishing position (.1). She barely held the finishing position at all (.05), but this was less about execution and more about doing it in the first place. [9.600]

Alyona followed on floor. She began with a back layout, so this won’t be scored. She followed with a good switch ring to switch half, then a back 1.5 to uncontrolled FLO (.05), then did her final pass of a Rudi to split too hard and landed beyond the mat out of bounds to her own surprise (.1). She finished the routine with her hand on the mat out of bounds by accident (.1). She followed Sierra’s double pike with a front double full that bounced out of bounds, but it didn’t look like the pass I remembered from last year which included an Arabesque to finish.

KJ was up next on vault, and she did it on a mat that lacked lines on top of the hard mat, a decision that probably comes out of caution since she broke her foot twice last year. She absolutely nailed her YF with a minute bounce that almost certainly wouldn’t happen on a hard mat. She held the finishing position for just over 1 second, too, so this was a perfect vault to me. [9.950]

Chase Brock was next up on floor with a new routine. She started with a nice full in spotted by Jay, followed with a nice switch side to incompletely turned Popa (.05) before finishing with a back 1.5 to uncontrolled (.05) front full. Missing from the routine was the double pike that had been a tad inconsistent last year, so this should increase her scoring potential. [9.900]

Following Tori’s timer was Konnor’s floor routine. She began with an absolutely gorgeous DLO, hit a switch leap to switch full without completing the full turn (.05) before finishing with a nice back 1.5 to front full. She’s being worked up into a full role, a total shock considering the original belief according to Jay was that she’d stick to beam. It seems she could make an impact on all four events throughout the season and challenge for the SEC Freshman of the Year title. [9.950]

After Jillian’s timer, we saw the new and improved Haleigh Bryant floor routine. She had a hop forward on her front double front (.1), hit her split jump, hit her tour jete half and finished with a nice FLO to Rudi. They deleted the front double full, a pass that had killed some routines’ 10 potential and that cost LSU the 2021 Florida meet. I have been advocating for its removal for a while, so it’s nice to see it gone for the sake of her health and scoring potential. [9.900]

Amari was next up on vault with a Y1.5. She had to hop forward (.1), landed with soft knees (.05) and had to take a small step (.05) to being herself to the finishing position that she failed to hold for a full second (.05). Despite my judgments, this was a good vault with great height and distance. [9.750]

Kiya finished things off with her floor routine. She didn’t even do a first pass, then slightly underrotated her back 1.5 (.05) to FLO with a step back (.1), hit an outstanding switch side to Popa before finishing off with an uncontrolled (.05) slide back on a huge double pike. She didn’t look like she was at the same level of performance, but that’s in part because her first pass is vital to the routine building properly.

Overall, 2/4 of the people who could hold their finishes did for a total of .100 in unnecessary deductions.

Rotation 3

For this rotation, Kiya and Konnor did timers for their Yurchenko doubles (DTY). Both were good with enough bounce to show that they can get the power needed to add another twist.

Alyona kicked things off on vault with her Y1.5. It had an uncontrolled (.05) step forward (.1), then a step back (.1) to the finishing position which she held for just over 1 second. This had good height and distance, but it also had the all-too-common step forward. [9.750]

Alexis did the first bars routine of the night. She hit her first handstand, had nice lines on her Maloney and hit a good bail handstand, a change from the pak salto she did last year. She hit her final handstand before dismounting with a half-in-half-out (HIHO) that was uncharacteristically close to the bar (.1) and had a hop back (.1). She failed to hold the finishing position for 1 second at the end (.05), and it was a great routine except for the dismount. If she’s going to make a weird mistake, it might as well happen in preseason. [9.750]

Tori went on bars following Konnor’s timer on vault. She hit her first handstand, hit a nice Ray, kept her legs glued together in a beautiful pak, potentially maintained her handstand in her low bar half turn (.025 since one judge might take and another might not), hit her final handstand and stuck her HIHO. She also failed to hold the finishing position for 1 second (.05), but that was the only major issue and it’s remarkably easy to correct. This was superb for the bars consistency queen of 2023. [9.925]

Sav finally went to one of her two best events with her Y1.5. She landed with her foot outside the guideline (.1, personal opinion here instead of prescribed rule) and took a side step (.1), but she somehow managed to bring her heels together to the finishing position without taking another step. She also failed to hold that finishing position for 1 second (.05). This was good, but it could be even better based on her history. [9.750]

Next up was Livvy on bars, and it began with an awful camera angle that made the early part tough to judge. She hit her first handstand, hit a good tkatchev, kept her legs together in her pak, had leg separation (.05) on a cheated low bar half turn (.05 for lack of precision) that never reached 90 degrees on the bar (.05), hit the final handstand and finished with bent legs and leg separation (.05 each) in her stuck piked-in layout, a slightly less difficult skill than the DLO she wants to hit found in the level 10 code of points and not the elite code. She held the finishing position for nearly 2 seconds, which is fantastic. Other than that, this is not the routine you want to see going forward in a lineup, but it can be fixed. [9.750]

After Kiya did her timer, Ashley went on bars. She hit her first handstand, hit a nice Ray, did a good bailt to overshoot, barely hit her final handstand and stuck her pencil-perfect DLO. She then failed to hold the finishing position for a full second (.05) to become the second person with a perfect routine until the finish, something I anticipate will happen to several people when the scores start to count. That said, it feels nitpicky to complain about such a great routine, so instead, praise it. [9.950]

Chase followed up with the routine of the night. Her Y1.5 was perfect, from the block to the height to the distance to the stick to the bringing the heels together to the hold of the finishing position for over 1 second. There was nothing I could see to deduct, and considering what she showed last year, this wasn’t a fluke. [10.0]

Amari followed up on bars with a solid routine of her own. She hit her first handstand, had to bend her left arm to catch her jaeger (.025), hit her second handstand, nailed a beautiful pak, hit the handstand on the low bar before the half turn (no deduction), hit her final handstand, and finished with an interesting full turn into an overrotated double tuck with a step back (.1). She then had to step forward (.1) into the finishing position which she failed to hold for 1 full second (.05). The ending caught me off guard, but if she controls it, people are going to freak out. [9.775]

Haleigh finished the rotation with her signature front handspring (FHS) front pike half. She hopped back and her momentum carried through her landing, but she was great otherwise and held the finishing position for 1 full second. [9.850]

Overall, 4/9 people who could hold finishing positions held them for the 1 second they needed to for a total of .250 in unnecessary deductions.

Rotation 4

Alexis kicked off the final rotation on beam. She had a good wolf turn followed by a nice cat leap to switch side, a nice BHS LOSO, hips at the knees on the front toss (.05) and finished with a stuck RO back 1.5. She failed to hold the finishing position for 1 second (.05). She was really consistent on this event last year after having to do it out of a need for anyone to step up in the face of injuries. I’m of the opinion that she should lead off in the first meet. [9.900]

Kiya was next on bars to finish her night back. She was short on her first handstand, had nice lines on her Maloney, hit her bail handstand, hit her final handstand very well and stuck her piked-in layout. She needed a balance adjustment (.05) to get to the finishing position, but she held it for 1 second. This was a very nice return to form. [9.900]

Ashley showcased her first beam routine next. She began with a nice BHS LOSO with a slight check (.05), followed with a beautiful full turn, a hit switch leap to short switch half (.05) and a stuck RO back 1.5. She failed to hold the finishing position for 1 full second (.05), and this was a case of the doubt not being given to the gymnast if they’re extremely close. Overall, this was really good. Ashley’s very talented and showed that off on this night. This routine is going to be part of the regular rotation when resting the all-arounders if it’s still this consistent, and it might even break into the lineups. [9.850]

Alyona was next on the bars. She hit her first handstand, had a nice ray to a great pak, failed to get to handstand (.05) on cheated low bar half turn (.05), hit her final handstand and piked down hard (.1) to stick her piked-in layout. She held the finishing position for 1 second. The dismount has been criticized to no end, so I won’t pile on. The rest of the routine was good save for the entirety of the low bar stuff, but that’s fixable. [9.800]

Kylie finished off her night with a beam routine that was good until the dismount. She had a balance check on her front aerial (.05), a good BHS LOSO, a short switch half (.05) to beam jump and a beautiful full turn. She dismounted with a RO back 1.5 with a step to the side (.1) and a step back to the finishing position (.1) in which she failed to show control (.05) and failed to hold for 1 full second (.05). This is how judges should be acting this season when they do their jobs correctly. [9.600]

Konnor finished off her incredible night on bars next. She hit the first handstand, bent her arms (.05) to catch her Church, a type of tkatchev, closely (.05), hit her second and third handstands, had minimal leg separation in her pak, hit the handstand in her beautiful low bar half turn and hit her final handstand. She took a step back on her HIHO (.1) and a step forward to get into the finishing position (.1) which she failed to hold for 1 second (.05). Konnor’s admitted that her least favorite event is bars, and it’s probably her weakest of the four. Considering how good her other events are and how much depth there is on bars on this roster, though, that is completely fine. [9.650]

Livvy showcased a beam routine for the first time since her freshman season. She began with a straddle mount, then a beautiful full turn and then a nice BHS BHS LOSO. She barely got her front aerial around and had to grasp the beam to keep from falling (.3), the did an extremely short switch half (.2) to hit split jump. She slid her right foot (.05) on her gainer back pike dismount and failed to hold the finishing position for .1 seconds, let alone 1 second (.05). The fact that she was able to get this to the point where it was worth showing off at Gym 101 is worthy of some level of praise considering how long it’d been. It’s a major work in progress, but it was nice to see that work in action. [9.400]

Sav finished her all-around night with an okay bars routine. She hit her first handstand, bent her arms (.05) to catch her jeager close (.05), hit her second and third handstands, nailed her bail handstand, hit her final handstand, hopped back on her double front half (.1) and failed to hold the finishing position for 1 clear second, another instance of the benefit of the doubt not being given (.05). It will get better, but this was decent for now. [9.750]

KJ was next on beam, and she did a standard mount instead of the reverse planche mount she’s become famous for. She hit her switch leap to back tuck to straddle quarter combo slowly (no deductions), had a big check on her BHS LOSO (.05 for arm swing, .1 for leg off beam), hit a great side aerial, a great full turn and finished with a stuck RO back 1.5. She failed to hold the finishing position for 1 second (.05). After what she showed tonight, it seems she’s back in the form everyone was hoping. [9.800]

Haleigh finished off her stellar night with a great bars routine. She hit her first handstand, hit her jaeger, hit her second handstand, had some leg separation (.05) in her bail handstand, hit her final handstand, slid her left foot back slightly on her double front half (.05) and held the finishing position for 1.5 seconds. She and Alyona were the only people to do multiple finishing positions outside of floor and hold them for the required amount of time, but Alyona missed it on beam. Haleigh hit it all three times. [9.900]

Aleah Finnegan finished off Gym 101 on beam with her only routine of the night. She did a standard mount, nailed her BHS BHS LOSO, hit her switch leap to split jump, nailed her full turn, had a small balance check on her front aerial (.05), stuck her gainer full and held the finishing position for 1 second. It can get hard to appreciate just how good Aleah is on beam, though her Olympic qualification should probably make that a heck of a lot easier. [9.950]

Conclusion

The 1 second rule is a huge gift. Last season was embarrassing with judges throwing 10s for obviously imperfect routines, see the first two of Haleigh’s three 10s against West Virginia or all three 10s thrown in the LSU-Bama meet. This rule forces judges to keep their pencils up through the landing and will kill the college stick for good. Get ready for a few more 9.7s to pop up across the SEC than in the last couple of years.

As for LSU itself, I have no idea how anybody is going to pick lineups with this much talent. This is an embarrassment of riches that looks incredible on paper. That paper means nothing until it’s got tested data on it, though, and we’ll get to see that soon. Friday night, everything counts.