No. 1 Florida edges No. 2 LSU by a toe

LSU gymnast Bridget Dean tied teammates Sami Durante and Kiya Johnson for second place in the balance beam with a score of 9.925 in the No. 2 Tigers' narrow Friday night loss to No. 1 Florida in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. Photo by Brandon Gallego

There’s not a crueler way to lose a gymnastics meet, especially between the top two college teams in the nation.

Your best gymnast in her strongest event – the floor exercise – just has to land on her feet at the end of her last tumbling pass as the final competitor of the night.

And if that happened Friday in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, No. 2 LSU would have recorded the highest score nationally of the season and walked away with a victory over No. 1 Florida.

But the unthinkable occured.

LSU freshman Haleigh Bryant stubbed a toe just as she began the front handspring of her final tumbling pass, causing her to come up short on her landing and fall back into a sitting position. The huge deduction dropped her score to 9.425 and allowed the Gators to escape with a 198.150 to 198.050 victory in a battle of SEC and national heavyweights.

“She came off (at the end of the routine) and I said `Are you OK?’” LSU coach Jay Clark said of Bryant. “She said, `Yeah, I tripped. I’m sorry.’ I said, `You don’t have anything to be sorry about.’

“I pulled our team together (afterward) and said, `I don’t want anybody hanging their chin.’ I looked directly at her (Bryant) and said, `You’ve delivered for us so many times. And you will again. There’s no disappointment in making a mistake.’

“That kid is an incredible freshman, incredible character, incredible person. There’s no way she should feel that. She’s carried us a good portion of the season so far. I know she’s disappointed, but at the end of the day there’s several places we could have found another tenth (of a point).”

LSU (4-1, 3-1 SEC) did everything but win. It had its highest scores of the year in the vault, the uneven parallel bars and the balance beam.

The vault score of 49.600 was the highest score this season in the NCAA. The Tigers had four scores of 9.925 or better in the vault and finished the night with 13 scores 9.90 or better.

“We had our high score of the year and that’s something to be proud of,” said LSU senior Sami Durante, who tied teammate Alyona Schennikova for second in the uneven bars at 9.950 and tied teammates Bridget Dean and Kiya Johnson for second in the beam at 9.925. “We were trying to improve ourselves, so I don’t think we should be disappointed or upset.”

The Tigers took a .200 lead after the first rotation with LSU on the vault and Florida (5-0, 4-0 SEC) on the uneven bars. LSU maintained that margin until the final rotation and looked in good shape when Florida senior Megan Skaggs, ranked No. 4 nationally in the all-around, fell off the balance beam and scored 9.300.

But the last four Gators in the beam scored 9.900 or better, including junior Trinity Thomas, last year’s 2020 SEC Gymnast of the Year.

In a meet wall-to-wall of great performances, Thomas’ winning all-around score of 39.900 is the fifth best in NCAA history. Besides her perfect 10.0 to win the floor exercise, she also won the vault (9.975) and the uneven bars (9.975) and tied teammate Ellie Lazzari for first in the balance beam.

“It’s a shame anybody had to lose that one because it was a heavyweight boxing match out there,” Clark said. “Our kids fought and went toe-to-toe with maybe the best Florida team I’ve seen in a long time.

“We told our kids no matter what, this meet was not going to be our final destination. I’m proud of our fight, we just came up a little short.

“We know we’re going to see that team down the line on a neutral site. These are all stepping stones we’ve got to keep climbing and we were better tonight than we’ve been all year.”

FLORIDA 198,150 LSU 198.050

Team scores by event

Vault: LSU 49.600, Florida 49.550

Uneven parallel bars: LSU 49.550, Florida 49.400

Balance Beam: Florida 49.650, LSU 49.550

Floor exercise: Florida 49.650, LSU 49.350

Individual event winners

Vault: Trinity Thomas, Florida, 9.975

Bars: Trinity Thomas, Florida, 9.975

Floor exercise: Trinity Thomas, Florida, 10.0

Beam: Trinity Thomas and Ellie Lazzari, Florida 9.950

All-Around: Trinity Thomas, Florida, 39.900

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Ron Higgins

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