Whether it was the COVID-19 rust of being a couple of weeks behind in training or first meet jitters or wanting to win new LSU head coach Jay Clark’s first meet, the Tigers’ gymnasts seemed just a tad off-center Friday night in their season opener in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
There were errant steps on landings, maybe not enough height on dismounts. Even Kiya Johnson, the 2020 SEC Freshman of the Year, fell off the balance beam.
But when the Tigers had to get a clutch performance in the final event to edge past Arkansas, sophomore Johnson delivered.
As the very last competitor for either team, the meet was Johnson’s to win or lose and she nailed a perfect score of 10 in the floor exercise to give 3rd ranked LSU a narrow 196.550 to 196.530 victory over the No. 15 Razorbacks.
It was Johnson’s first career 10 in the floor exercise. Last year, she recorded 10s in the balance beam and the vault.
“It was really good to get a win to start this season,” Clark said. “It was a solid score to open the year. I think you will see a different team next week. Overall, I am pleased with tonight knowing our potential and we do not have to be perfect on the first night.”
The lead bounced back and forth all night. Arkansas led after the first rotation, LSU after second rotation and Arkansas after the third rotation heading into the final rotation of the Razorbacks on the balance beam and the Tigers in the floor exercise.
LSU got a huge break when two Hogs fell off the beam including one gymnast twice. The Tigers took advantage by finishing with four of the top six scorers in the floor exercise, including freshman Haleigh Bryant who had a smashing debut.
She tied Arkansas’ Sarah Shaffer and Amanda Elswick for first in the vault and was second in the floor exercise with a 9.975.
LSU senior Sami Durante shared the uneven parallel bars title with Arkansas’ Maggie O’Hara as both gymnasts scored a 9.90.
LSU outscored Arkansas in the vault (49.1785-48.925) and the floor exercise (49.350-49.100) and Arkansas returned the favor in the balance beam (49.075-48.825) and the uneven parallel bars (49.250-49.200).