It’s No. 2 LSU vs. No. 1 Florida in Friday’s college gymnastics showdown of the season

Sophomore Kiya Johnson capped No. 3 LSU's gymnastics win over No. 22 Missouri Friday night in the PMAC by scoring a perfect 10 in the floor exercise. Photo by Johnathan Mailhes

You’ve got to give LSU gymnastics coach Jay Clark credit for channeling his inner-Nick Saban.

In the face of Friday’s 6:15 p.m. SEC mega matchup in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center between the nation’s two top ranked teams, No. 1 Florida (4-0, 3-0 SEC) and No. 2 LSU (4-0, 3-0 SEC), Clark has sounded as Sabanesque as the Alabama and one-time LSU national championship winning football coach.

“We’re not tone deaf it’s 1 vs. 2 and the excitement that goes with it,” Clark said. “But our messaging week in and week out is that regardless of who we share the floor with, we’re competing against every team in the country.”

There’s an element of truth to that.

Unlike football, basketball, baseball and softball and the majority of sports, gymnastic national rankings are not decided by media or coaches votes or a selection committee.

Teams are ranked in order of its average scores from all its meets combined.

So, you have the top-ranked Gators at 197.506 with the Tigers nipping at their tails at 197.144.

The last time Florida was ranked No. 1 facing LSU was 14 years ago when the Gators beat No. 9 LSU in Baton Rouge. The Tigers were led that night by two-event winner Ashleigh Clare-Kearney, who has been a long-time volunteer coach for LSU handing the all choreography for floor exercise and beam routines.

The floor has been strong for LSU this season with the Tigers currently ranked first in the nation in the event with a 49.401 score. LSU also has two of the top four ranked floor competitors with sophomore Kiya Johnson at No. 1 (9.975) and freshman Haleigh Bryant at No. 4 (9.925).

But Florida is ranked nationally in the top three in all four events, leading the nation in the vault (49.388) and the balance beam (49.350).

Gators’ 10-time All-American Trinity Thomas, a junior who was named the 2020 SEC Gymnast of the Year, is ranked first in the nation on the uneven bars (9.931), third in vault (9.919) and eighth in the all-around (39.431).

Florida senior Megan Skaggs is ranked third nationally in the all-around (39.550), just ahead of the Tigers’ Bryant in fourth.

With Johnson being limited to two events because Clark is trying to manage her Achilles tendon pain, Bryant has emerged as LSU’s best gymnast. She’s already won SEC Freshman of the Week three times and the league’s Gymnast of the Week.

The exceedingly mature frosh is taking a practical approach to Friday’s showdown with the Gators.

“We’re just going to the PMAC Friday night and do our normal gymnastics and not change anything,” Bryant said. “What we do in the gym every day and what we’ve shown is enough. If we do our gymnastics how we do our gymnastics, then the results are going to happen.”

The meet will be televised on the SEC Network.

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Ron Higgins

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