Jay Clark could hear LSU coach D-D Breaux’s excitement through the phone when she told him the news.
The LSU gymnastics associate head coach, who was on a three-week recruiting trip, adjusted his schedule to make sure he would be back in Baton Rouge to see it happen. When his flight landed Monday evening, Clark went straight to the Carl Maddox Field House for a quick chat with Breaux.
As the two coaches left the practice facility, Breaux stopped to take a look around.
“It’s really happening,” Breaux said.
The University broke ground on a state-of-the-art gymnastics practice facility north of the PMAC Tuesday morning, fulfilling one of Breaux’s career-long goals at LSU. Breaux, who is entering her 37th season as gymnastics coach, had been pushing for an updated practice area for years.
“She’s not one that shows a tremendous amount of emotion, but there was a lot of it there,” Clark said. “To see this come true was a lifelong dream for her.”
The facility is scheduled to be completed for the start of the 2015-2016 school year, but Breaux isn’t allowing herself to look ahead.
“I haven’t asked about a completion date; I’ve been more concerned about the start date,” Breaux said. “As long as I can see the beginning, it’s better than a light at the end of the tunnel.”
The Tigers will have about 18,000 square feet of gym space and various amenities at their disposal, such as bigger locker rooms, team lounges, meeting rooms and warm-up areas. Clark said the new facility will feature improved video capabilities and training rooms that will allow rehab to be done on site.
Breaux and Clark said the promise of a first-class facility alone has created a positive impact on recruiting. Clark took renderings of the facility on recruiting trips, and LSU promoted the plans for the practice area on social media.
“Facilities don’t always get everybody, and they don’t win you championships, but they sure do help to create an environment and a culture of excellence,” Clark said. “It creates a draw for kids to make sure that they check LSU out because they’ve heard about what an amazing training environment it is.”
Clark was hired around the same time the Board of Regents approved funding for the new practice facility in 2012, and he’s already seen out-of-state talent flock to Baton Rouge.
Lake Mary, Fla., native Ashleigh Gnat thrived during her freshman season, averaging more than a 9.840 on both vault and floor to earn First Team All-America honors last year. The Tigers also signed 2013 Junior Olympics floor champion Myia Hambrick and 2014 California all-around winner Erin Macadaeg for next year’s recruiting class.
Gnat helped lift LSU to new heights in 2014 with the Tigers breaking their team scoring record three times en route to a program-best third-place finish at the NCAA Super Six Finals in April. Breaux and Clark said the new facility’s space and apparatuses will improve efficiency during practice.
“Instead of our kids standing around waiting for a turn to get on the balance beam, I’ll have enough balance beams that an entire rotation of athletes can come to beam and get their assignment done in 20 minutes instead of 45 minutes,” Breaux said.
Breaux joked that when she hailed the facility as the best in the country, Clark responded that it will be the best in the world. However, Clark isn’t jesting.
“Our standards in this country for training facilities are higher than most anywhere else in the world,” Clark said. “I haven’t seen every place in the world, but I’ve seen what I believe is the best in this country for sure. This facility will be the crown jewel of college gymnastics for some time until somebody comes along and tries to one-up us.”