The words, “you should see me in a crown,” reverberate throughout the Pete Maravich Assembly Center every Friday night during Kiya Johnson’s floor routine.
The freshman all-rounder’s floor routine is performed with an instrumental version of Grammy-winner Billie Eilish’s many hit song, “You Should See Me in a Crown.”
It’s just the back track with no words, per NCAA gymnastics rules, but the audience in the PMAC hears the lyrics every Friday night, as her teammates and fans alike shout the chorus on beat with the routine.
So you should see Johnson in a crown. And you actually do, after almost every routine when her teammates crowns her with the Tigers’ stick crown after another nearly flawless performance.
Johnson has been close to perfect on the floor exercise multiple times, with three 9.975s in a row. She has been perfect on the balance beam though, scoring her first career 10 in LSU’s loss to Florida.
Halfway through the season, Johnson has been named SEC Gymnast of the Week once and SEC Freshman of the Week three times. Johnson has shown week after week that she is an elite-level athlete in the conference.
“I think my confidence has grown after every meet,” Johnson said. “I just try to go every week in and week out and hit for my team. I came in with confidence because my teammates and coaches have confidence in me, but obviously all the recognition and titles, I didn’t think it would be that much.”
The 17-year-old shouldn’t even be in competing for LSU right now, much less dominating one of the most difficult conferences to compete with 15 individual titles on the season. She might have more than 18 individual titles before she turns 18 in two weeks.
Johnson, who was originally committed to Georgia in her high school career, decommitted after a coaching change and landed with LSU. She graduated from high school a year early, enrolling in August 2019.
Looking back on it, it’s a decision that Johnson doesn’t regret.
“I cannot see myself back home, in high school, still doing JO gymnastics,” Johnson said. “It was a big change and really hard to get here, but I’m glad I’m here.”
The coaching staff knew Johnson would be a vital part of LSU’s lineup early in her career, but none of them could have predicted just how important and how mature she would be in the role.
Co-head coach D-D Breaux said Johnson was a “cut above” of others in the recruiting process, which has shown in the way she mentally and physically prepares throughout the season.
“We knew we were getting a special athlete,” said co-head coach Jay Clark. “What we didn’t know was with her coming in a year early, we didn’t know that her maturity level would be so high, and she’s been able to be so consistent and conduct herself at such an even keeled mindset, but we had no way of knowing that.”
At the beginning of the season, Breaux compared Johnson to Sarah Finnegan — a two-time uneven bars national champion and 2019 AAI Award winner.
What is high praise for Johnson and seemed like an over-exaggeration at the time is now the best comparison for the freshman phenom.
“Consistency wins and she’s been extremely consistent in her performances and what she’s doing,” Breaux said. “If she maintains this level of consistency and continues to polish and find her perfection point, she could be as close to a 40 in the all-around as any athlete we’ve ever had.”
Even though she’s at least a year younger than her teammates, Johnson competes the with same leadership and maturity that a 23-year-old Ruby Harrold — who is the oldest member of the Tigers — shows on the floor.
And while she doesn’t present that same type of vocal leadership that Harrold possesses as a four-year member of the team, Johnson has shown that leadership in other ways.
“She has definitely set the pace (for the team) in the way she trains,” Clark said. “She’s consistent in everything that she does, and there’s no doubt that everybody in the room would say they look to her in terms of the example to follow.”
Her maturity on the floor doesn’t stop the nerves from still creeping in every now and then. She often looks to Harrold or other older, more experienced teammates to help her through college gymnastics.
With the help of her teammates, Johnson is becoming more and more comfortable in the new environment.
“The first meet in the PMAC, I haven’t been that nervous in so long,” Johnson said. “Even before we ran out, I was shaking. I don’t know why, it was just a different atmosphere. Now it’s normal. It’s more fun, it’s more enjoyable when you’re confident and not focused on all the nerves. My mindset now is just being confident and I have more fun.”
Johnson emphasizes she isn’t thinking about individual titles or recognition, she just wants to help her team, but as she gets more confident and conformable, she has more fun and she competes at an even higher level each time.
And she will be in a crown while doing it.