It is officially time for the NCAA Championships for LSU gymnastics.
The Tigers will travel to Utah next week for the regional rounds. Coming off a runner-up finish in the SEC Championships, the Tigers enter the NCAA Championships as a No. 1 seed, with no shortage of confidence.
“I think we’re on an upward trajectory and they do too, they want it, they’re verbalizing that without being prompted and that’s a good sign,” said Head Coach Jay Clark during his weekly media session.
After a season like no other for LSU, the Tigers can now shift all their focus towards achieving the ultimate goal: a national championship. Despite an abnormal season, the Tigers still put together many impressive meets and finished the season ranked inside the top four, securing them a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Championships. Apart from this giving LSU an advantage on the floor in the competition, Clark believes that it is a major confidence boost for his team.
“Any time you can be a one seed,” he said, “from a confidence building standpoint, it’s a great thing.”
LSU finished runner-up in the SEC after coming just one-tenth of a point behind SEC Champion Alabama. The loss was obviously disappointing for the team, but the Tigers were able to put some great routines together, giving them plenty of momentum heading into the NCAA Championships.
Kiya Johnson highlighted LSU’s best performances of the competition, scoring a perfect 10 on floor. Her 10 makes her just the third LSU gymnast to score perfectly at the SEC Championships and marked the tenth ever perfect score by anyone at that competition.
The young talent overall was the story of LSU in the meet, with Haleigh Bryant and Elena Arenas each scoring an impressive 9.95 on vault to bring home the 13th and 14th-best vault titles in school history. This was the first SEC Championships meet for Johnson, Bryant and Arenas, and they showed fans that the future is bright.
Another positive from the meet was that LSU scored the highest vault score at an SEC Championships meet in school history. The Tigers posted an outstanding 49.625 score led by the two 9.95 scores from Bryant and Arenas to go with a 9.90 each from Sami Durante and Sarah Edwards and a 9.925 from Alyona Shchennikova.
Despite losing the meet overall, the vault title and Johnson’s perfect 10 on floor were among many positives taken away from the meet. From these successes comes confidence, a huge key for the Tigers heading into the most important meets of the season. Clark was adamant that the SEC Championships were a positive experience, and an experience that his team learned a lot from.
“We’re in a good place overall,” Clark said. “We came up a tenth short last weekend, but so many good things happened. I think we learned a lot.”
The Tigers get a week’s rest between the SEC Championships and the NCAA regional round to prepare and recover. During this time, Clark is putting an emphasis on togetherness and doing everything possible to keep his team engaged in everything they do.
“I think this time of year the key is to keep everybody engaged and focused on everything we’re doing together,” he said.
The team has shown at points throughout this season that it has the ability to improve from week to week and can beat anyone when at its best. The team definitely seems to be peaking at the right time both on and off the floor, which is important this time of year. Apart from just improvement on the floor, Clark believes that this team is at its best attitude-wise.
LSU fans should have plenty of confidence in this team going into the NCAA Championships, as it has proved on multiple occasions what it is capable of when at its best. With an extra week to rest and prepare, the Tigers will have a completely healthy and rested squad, and fans should have every reason to expect the best from this group. LSU will begin its quest for a national championship April 2 when they travel to Utah for the regional rounds.
“When a team can kind of take over their own mission and have a good understanding of where they’re trying to go and you’re not having to say a whole lot,” Clark said, “that’s a good feeling as a coach.”