By Tiger Rag News Services
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The second-ranked LSU gymnastics team (20-1) posted a team score of 198.075, the fourth-highest score in school history, to claim the 2017 Southeastern Conference Championship Saturday evening at Veteran’s Memorial Arena.
The Tigers won the inaugural SEC regular season championship this season and also won the first SEC championship awarded by the league in 1981. The team score was the third-highest in SEC Championship meet history.
Altogether, LSU claimed five SEC event championships to tie the school record set by the 2015 squad. Senior Ashleigh Gnat earned the titles on vault, beam and floor. Sophomore Lexie Priessman won the individual title on bars. Fellow sophomore McKenna Kelley also earned a share of the floor title for the Tigers.
“This was absolutely a team effort to win the SEC Championships,” head coach D-D Breaux said. “This was tough meet and it was hard. We had to get momentum going from the first routine and we did just that. The team established it from the beginning.”
“This night is indescribable,” Gnat said. “We have worked so hard to get here. We knew it was going to be a fight. We came out and started strong and finished even stronger. That’s the mark of a championship team. We know this isn’t the final destination, but we are thankful we got to check this off the list.”
On the night, Florida finished in second place with a 197.825. Alabama posted a 197.500 for third and George earned a 196.700 for fourth. In the earlier session, Kentucky led the way with a 196.625. Auburn finished sixth with a 196.550, Missouri earned a 195.825 for seventh and Arkansas ended in eighth with a 194.900.
Gnat’s titles tied for the most by an LSU gymnast since 2013 when Rheagan Courville won three titles. The Lake Mary, Florida native opened the meet with the ninth perfect 10.0 score of her career when she did it in the anchor spot. Gnat’s 10.0 on vault tied Jennifer Wood for the most in school history.
Priessman, held out of last week’s meet with a knee injury, became the program’s first bars champion since 1994 when she anchored the event with a 9.95 to tie her career high. On beam, Gnat closed out a strong rotation with a 9.95 to share the title.
With all eyes on the Tigers in the final event, Kelley and Gnat ended in style. Kelley actually clinched the championship for the Tigers with a 9.95. Gnat, the reigning SEC champion on floor, closed down Veteran’s Memorial Arena with a 9.95.
For their performance in Jacksonville, Gnat, Kelley, Priessman and freshman Ruby Harrold earned All-SEC honors. Harrold and Kennedi Edney were also named to the All-SEC freshman team after their performances on vault and beam respectively.
LSU began with a 49.575 on vault for the best by the program at an SEC Championship. Sophomore Sarah Finnegan led off with a 9.875 and junior Myia Hambrick followed with a 9.90. Harrold stuck her 1.5 vault for a 9.95 in the fourth spot. Gnat closed out the opening rotation with her fifth perfect score.
On bars the Tigers ended with once again the highest score on the event at a league championship with a 49.450. Senior Shae Zamardi started off with a 9.875 and Hambrick once again earned a 9.90 in the second spot. After a mistake in the third spot, the bottom half of the lineup closed out strong with Edney earning a 9.875 and Finnegan posting a 9.85. Priessman stuck the dismount on a near perfect routine for the 9.95.
The Tigers’ beam lineup got off to a rocky start, but the squad recovered and posted three scores of 9.90 or better. Hambrick and senior Sydney Ewing followed with fall with a pair of 9.875s. Edney and Finnegan then each earned 9.90s and Gnat closed out beam with a 9.95. The beam total of 49.500 was also the best at an SEC Championship in school history.
With Florida beginning to gain ground and the Gators on their best event, it was up to one of the best floor lineups in the country to close things out. Seniors Ewing and Zamardi started the squad off with a bang with a 9.85 and 9.90 respectively. The final three performances once again delivered with Finnegan scoring a 9.90 and 9.950s from Kelley and Gnat.
The squad now awaits its NCAA Regional destination. The sites will be released at 3 p.m. CT Monday on NCAA.com. The meet will take place on April 1 at six sites around the country. Eligible spots for the Tigers include: Arkansas, Washington, Nebraska, Illinois and West Virginia.
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