Better late than never, LSU’s No. 2 nationally ranked gymnasts travel to Auburn for Friday night meet

The SEC cancelled last Friday’s No. 2 LSU at No. 22 Auburn gymnastics meet because LSU had 14 of 19 gymnasts sidelined by COVID-19 contact tracing.

The unexpected week off wasn’t exactly a detriment for LSU (3-0, 2-0 in the SEC).

“Anytime something like this happens you try and find the silver lining,” said LSU coach Jay Clark, who will have a full complement of gymnasts when they finally make the trip to Auburn (0-3, 0-2 SEC) for a 6 p.m. Friday matchup to be televised by the SEC Network. “For us, last week was good. We were able to slow things down a little bit and focus on the errors we were making.”

LSU, following COVID quarantine protocols, had to train last week in groups of four or five gymnasts.

“We done it before,” LSU sophomore Kiya Johnson said, “and it’s obviously weird not having everybody in the gym at the same time. We’ve tried to focus on creating our own energy, as much energy as five people can bring during a practice.”

Last week was also a time for rest, especially Clark keeping tabs of his load management of Johnson and her sore Achilles.

Two weeks ago, Johnson, last season’s SEC Freshman of the Year, was limited to competing in just the uneven bars in LSU’s 197.200-196.375 SEC home victory over 11th ranked Georgia.

Without her, the Tigers still won all four events as a team and individually with four different Tigers taking firsts. LSU also took five of the six top places in the vault and balance beam, and four of the top six in the floor exercise.

Not that Clark wants to make it a habit of not having Johnson available for all four events – he plans on using her in the vault, uneven bars and balance beam against Auburn – but LSU’s show of depth in the Georgia win was a big plus.

“I’m trying to bring her (Johnson) back methodically rather than just get her back in on everything,” Clark said. “We’ve got other kids that can go (in the floor exercise). We’ve got people we can put in there who can score at or near what Kiya is going to score.”

The Tigers are ranked No. 1 nationally in the floor exercise with freshman Haleigh Bryant as the closer in the event in the wake of Johnson being limited.

Johnson is ranked first nationally in the floor exercise with an average score of 9.975 with the nation’s only perfect 10.000 score. Bryant is fourth nationally in the floor, averaging 9.925 with a best of 9.975.

Bryant is also ranked fourth in the all-around (39.537) and the vault (9.883).

While she’s gotten numerous headlines early in the season as SEC Freshman Gymnast of the Week twice and SEC Gymnast of the Week once, she appreciates being on a team loaded with talent.

“When one person goes down (with an injury or needs rest), there’s 19 of us on this team that can do almost every event,” Bryant said. “That’s really nice. If one person needs a break, the next person is ready to go.”

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Ron Higgins

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