They all said it felt like a home meet. And it did, with thousands dressed in purple and gold and chants of L-S-U reverberating through the Smoothie King Center.
And even though this LSU gymnastics senior class just won their third Southeastern Conference Championship in a row, this one in the state of Louisiana felt so much more special.
Senior all-arounder Lexie Priessman said when she ran out of the tunnel, she had to double-take because it felt so much like running out of the tiger head in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
LSU coach D-D Breaux, who fought for years to bring the event back to Louisiana, said that the entire weekend felt surreal to her.
“It felt like a home meet,” Priessman said. “We kept thinking we were in the PMAC because it was so loud. We looked into the crowd and saw so many familiar faces. It was crazy.”
Though they know what this feeling is like, senior all-arounder McKenna Kelley said they were still feeling the “sweet victory” as the confetti fell from the ceiling.
One senior, Julianna Cannamela, has been nursing an injury for most of the season, but the other three put their best feet forward as they helped LSU to a 197.900 at the SEC Championship meet.
“[The seniors] have done a great job of creating this cohesiveness,” Breaux said. “Their ability to communicate with each other and just read each other’s emotions and calm each other down and life each other up. It’s been amazing.”
All-arounder Sarah Finnegan clinched the meet and won the SEC individual event title on floor with a perfect 10. She also won the all-around at 39.800 and tied for the beam title with a 9.95.
“Amazing!” Finnegan said, almost at a loss for words. “In front of over 10,000 people and the fact that it was in New Orleans. You could look around and people were in purple and gold. It was so amazing. The energy was awesome.”
Breaux said Finnegan is almost so automatic that the coaching staff just tells her to go out there and be herself every time she touches the floor.
“She’s just so natural and so normal,” Breaux said. “When she goes out, we’re telling her to be Finnegan — to be relaxed and be normal.”
Priessman competed on three events for only the second time this season after nursing a mid-season injury of her own. She had a 9.825 on vault, 9.925 on bars and 9.90 on floor.
Kelley also went on two events, with a 9.90 on both vault and floor.
“Being able to end our senior career, our last SECs with a title win is just, oh my gosh it couldn’t be any better,” Priessman said.
Finnegan said this win was a little more special than the other championships she won at LSU.
One of her goals going into her senior season was to just take it all in. And winning another SEC Championship along the way was icing on the cake.
“I just wanted to take a moment, step back and really look around because this is something so special and I’m never going to get it back,” Finnegan said. “I’m just enjoying the process until the very end.”
The season isn’t over for the Tigers or the senior class, but they will continue to feel the victory from this win. It was thanks in part to the leadership of this senior class throughout a roller coaster of a season that the Tigers were able to turn a corner and compete at such a high level.
The seniors stepped up and became leaders in what was a more inexperienced team and guided them through the season.
“Being a leader is one thing, but actually having to lead is different,” Kelley said. “I think our senior class has had to do that because of the lack of experience in the beginning of the season. Now every single girl out there is seasoned and they know what to do.”
Breaux said this senior class deserves every good thing that has come their way during their careers, and this SEC Championship is just a small part of it.
“It’s our last one, ending with something so special means the most,” Priessman said. “I feel like this group of girls, we’re family. We can go to anyone for anything. It’s more than a team, honestly. We’re sisters for life. It’s a group of girls I know I’ll never stop talking to. It’s just amazing.”