FORT WORTH, Texas – LSU’s sixth-ranked gymnastics team won its national semifinal Thursday to advanced to the NCAA Championships at Dickies Arena.
The Tigers, which had a team score of 197.475, advance to Saturday’s championship at 3 p.m. alongside its Southeastern Conference counterpart Florida (197.400). California finished third with a score of 196.9125 and Denver finished fourth with 196.500 in the prelims.
LSU advances to the NCAA team final for the ninth time in school history and first time under head coach Jay Clark. The Tigers are in search of the program’s first state title against Florida and the top two finishers from the second semifinal featuring Oklahoma, Utah, UCLA and Kentucky.
Junior Haleigh Bryant sits in the top spot in the all-around standings after a 39.6875. Her score is the second-highest at NCAA Championships and the best in a semifinal in school history.
Sophomore Aleah Finnegan is also in a favorable spot to take home an NCAA individual championship after a 9.9625 on floor in her NCAA Championships debut. She is tied with Florida’s Leanne Wong in first place. NCAA championships will be determined by the performer with the top score in all four events and the all-around following the second semifinal.
The Tigers started the semifinal competition off on beam and scored a 49.275 to sit in third following the first rotation. Elena Arenas led off with a 9.7375 and Alyona Shchennikova scored a 9.775 in the second spot. Alexis Jeffrey and Sierra Ballard both posted strong scores with a 9.8375 and 9.8125 respectively. Haleigh Bryant scored a 9.9375 and Finnegan anchored with a 9.9125.
LSU climbed its way to second at the halfway point with a 49.475, which tied for the third-highest prelim score on the event in school history. Ballard set the tone for the squad with a 9.80 and Shchennikova scored a 9.8875 in the second routine. Sophomore KJ Johnson, who was a last-minute replacement for the floor lineup, gave the Tigers a crucial performance with a 9.875. Finnegan earned her 9.9625 in the fifth spot and Bryant anchored with a 9.95.
In the third rotation, LSU held its own with a 49.250 on vault and stayed in second following both Cal and Denver counting a fall.
Arenas opened the event with a 9.825 and Shchennikova scored a 9.8375 on her Yurcehnko ½. Finnegan scored a 9.85 and freshman Bryce Wilson made her debut by scoring a 9.85. Bryant anchored the event with a 9.8625.
LSU needed five hit routines to advance and the Tigers delivered six-for six hit routines. The 49.475 bars score tied for the second-highest on the event at the NCAA Championships in school history.
Freshman Ashley Cowan and sophomore Tori Tatum made their NCAA debuts and delivered with a 9.875. Finnegan scored a 9.925 and Shchennikova secured the squad’s spot in the championship with a 9.8625. Bryant anchored the bars lineup and the meet for the Tigers with a 9.9375, which pushed the squad to first overall.