The last home gymnastics meet of the season Friday night in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center for No. 3 ranked LSU vs. 22nd ranked Missouri has a bit of intrigue.
First, LSU (4-3 overall and SEC), after three consecutive dual meet losses to then-No. 1 Florida, then-No. 6 Alabama and then-No. 11 Kentucky, are trying to avoid four straight losses for the first time since 2011.
“At one point or another, everyone has had their best routines and their best meet,” LSU senior Sami Durante said. “It just hasn’t been all together as a team. That’s what we’re really looking for. The focus is on putting a complete meet together and finally showing what we can do.”
Also, it’s Senior Night for Durante, Reagan Campbell, Bridget Dean, Christina Desiderio, Sarah Edwards and Oliver Gunter. They’ve all been part of two SEC championships as well as teams that finished second and fourth respectively in the 2019 and 2018 NCAA national championships.
Before the 7:15 start of Friday’s meet, the seniors will be honored as they bid adieu to the Pete Maravich Assembly Center for one last time.
Or are they?
The NCAA has granted all athletes an extra year of eligibility and LSU head coach Jay Clark said some of his seniors will take advantage of the NCAA’s rare generosity.
“I know at least two seniors have told me they will be back (for next season) and then I feel like at least two others will be back,” Clark said. “I’d love to have them all back. They’ve provided us with a tremendous amount of leadership and consistency in a lot of spots over the years.”
Clark is currently leaning on seniors such Durante to steady his team after the recent string of dual meet losses and provide prospective to a young squad with seven sophomores and five freshmen.
“All year we’ve talked about our goals aren’t in the dual meets,” Durante said. “Our goals in the postseason are still ahead of us. But this year, all the meets are conference meets. There are no breaks. Every meet is a hard one.”
Even in the losses, the Tigers have had huge moments. In last Friday’s defeat at Kentucky, LSU’s vault score of 49.625 was the fourth highest in school history and made the Tigers just two teams in the country to score a 49.600 or higher on vault this season.
LSU ranks second in the nation on bars, third on vault, fourth on beam and sixth on floor.
Individually, freshman Haleigh Bryant ranks second on floor, eighth on vault and sixth in the all-around. Sophomores Kiya Johnson and Alyona Shchennikova rank in the top 20 on both vault and bars. Freshman Olivia Dunne is 21st on bars. Seniors Durante and Edwards rank seventh on bars and 17th on vault respectively.
All season, Bryant or Bryant and Shchenniova have competed in the all-around for the Tigers. But with the SEC championships two weeks away, it’s likely Johnson will be added as a third all-around entrant and there may be a fourth.
Last season as the SEC’s Freshman of the Year, Johnson won the all-around in six of the nine meets in which she competed. This season, Clark hasn’t previously entered Johnson in the all-around to preserve any usage that would cause injury to her surgically repaired Achilles tendon.
“Since the beginning of the season, Jay has always said our last meet (of the regular season) was going to be like a mock SEC (championships),” Bryant said. “So, we’re putting everyone out there. I’m excited.”
Clark said he hasn’t seen any signs mentally or physically that his team won’t be ready for Missouri and then the postseason.
“Nobody said it was going to go perfect, it rarely has in the history of our sport for any team,” Clark said. “Every team takes its own path. Some of the our best teams in the past haven’t gone undefeated, so it’s not as though there’s some sort of alarm that needs to go off.
“It’s certainly a concern, but we still believe what we’re capable of. I still believe in where these kids’ hearts are and where we are as a program.”
Besides the 2021 senior class being honored in pregame, LSU will also recognize the 2020 senior class of Ashlyn Kirby, Kennedi Edney and Ruby Harrold. The trio was not properly recognized last year due to their final meet being canceled because of COVID-19.
Friday’s meet will be streamed on SECNetwork+ through WatchESPN.com and the app.