“We survived and advanced,” said LSU gymnastics Head Coach Jay Clark after his team advanced past the NCAA Regionals in dramatic fashion. LSU got clutch performances out of its seniors and despite an overall performance that was not perfect, the Tigers did what they had to do to get to the next round.
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LSU advanced past the NCAA Regional Rounds last weekend on the back of a 197.750 overall score that narrowly edged it past Arizona State and Kentucky to qualify for Nationals. LSU started the meet strong, scoring a 49.475 on both floor and vault capped off by a perfect 10 from freshman phenom Haleigh Bryant. Bryant’s perfect score has her join Ashleigh-Clare Kearney and Jennifer Wood as the only gymnasts in school history to score a perfect 10 on vault at an NCAA regional.
LSU lost some of its momentum during bars but put up a score of just 49.275, which made things come down to the wire for the Tigers. In the end, it was the seniors who stepped up for LSU, leading the Tigers to a 49.525 score on beam. Seniors Christina Desiderio, Sami Durante, Reagan Campbell and Bridget Dean all registered scores of 9.90 or higher to lead the Tigers to a second place overall finish in the region — good enough to qualify for nationals.
“The seniors got it done, and that’s what you want. We challenged them to step up, and they did,” Clark said in his post-meet interview.
The Tigers were no strangers to adversity in the regional rounds, and the team’s response was the most impressive aspect of the weekend. The Tigers struggled in spots during Friday’s regional second round meet despite qualifying for the regional final, leading to Clark and his staff challenging the team to respond between meets. Whatever was said to the team between Friday and Saturday’s meets seemed to ignite a fire in the team and led to it showing plenty of fight in the regional final.
“We had a hard meeting after the first day, and I was glad to see them rise up,” Clark said. “We weren’t perfect, but we did enough and that’s really where you want to be right now.”
Saturday’s meet certainly was not perfect, but as Clark said, it was good enough to advance to the next round. The Tigers faced plenty of adversity during the meet from a slightly disappointing performance on bars, to an injury to Bryant that kept her out of the beam rotation. Bryant was replaced by Alyona Shchenikova who scored a solid 9.825, good enough to help secure qualification for the Tigers.
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The meet was an intense one for all teams involved, making LSU’s resilience even more impressive. The Tigers were far from home competing in front of a crowd that was energetic and showing its support for the hometown Utah Utes. This, in addition to the stage and tightness of the meet, made it a very intense and entertaining atmosphere for fans. Clark felt that this meet was good for the sport overall.
“It’s exciting for our sport when you see a regional this close,” Clark said. “It felt like a national championship going on in here.”
Through the fight and resilience, however, there are still things that can be improved for LSU going into nationals. Mistakes were still made during the regional rounds, and Clark was adamant that fixing those mistakes will be a point of emphasis going into the next round.
“We’ve got to get better if we want to contend for this thing because it doesn’t get easier from here on out,” Clark said after Saturday’s meet.
Overall, the fight and mental toughness was the story of the weekend for LSU and will serve the team well on the road to a national championship. The Tigers made mistakes that are fixable, but mental toughness is something that cannot be taught.