After some early nerves, LSU gymnasts advance to Saturday’s NCAA Salt Lake City Regional finals

LSU’s third-ranked gymnastics team overcame some early self-inflicted drama Friday night to qualify for Saturday’s NCAA Salt Lake City Regional finals.

Despite two gymnasts falling off the balance beam and another stumble in the floor exercise in the Tigers’ first two rotations, they roared back in the vault and uneven bars to finish at 197.025, just behind Kentucky’s 197.125.

The Tigers closed with 49.525 in the vault with sophomore Kiya Johnson and freshman Haleigh Bryant both scoring 9.950.

Bryant was the anchor for the vault. When she stuck the landing, there was visible relief because she fell off the beam and fell forward on landing her final pass in the floor exercise to uncharacteristically score 9.225 and 9.375 respectively.

In the bars, senior Sami Durante’s 9.995 anchor gave LSU a final score of 49.350 and helped overcome her disastrous beam performance of 8.875.

“We really put ourselves into a hole today, but I am proud of the way they fought,” LSU coach Jay Clark said. “The point is to survive and advance and that is what we did. There were some really big routines across the board tonight. We just need to refocus and get our rest before tomorrow night. I have full confidence in this team to reset and do what we need to do.”

LSU opened the meet on the beam and things couidn’t have gone worse. Fortunately, senior Reagan Campbell’s event-winning 9.925, Johnson’s 9.900 and senior Bridget Dean’s 9.850 stopped the bleeding as the Tigers finished with 48.700.

The Tigers’ floor exercise also couldn’t have gone under after Bryant’s stumble. But again, Johnson lifted her team with 9.950 as the LSU anchor to push the Tigers to 49.350 in the event.

Johnson’s floor ex finish seemed to point LSU back in right direction. Only the top two teams advanced to Saturday’s finals and the Tigers got there.

On the night, Johnson won the all-around with a score of 39.700 as well as capturing the floor exercise and a piece of vault title with Bryant.

LSU and Kentucky will join Friday’s earlier qualifiers Utah (197.500) and Arizona State (196.600) in Saturday’s final.

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Ron Higgins

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