No. 2 LSU Gymnastics Needs to Beat Alabama and Hope Kentucky Defeats Florida to Claim a Share of SEC Title But the Tigers Have Bigger Goals, Clark Says

LSU's Aleah Finnegan. PHOTO BY: Francis Dinh

Despite posting a season-best road score and holding on to the No. 2 spot in the national polls, LSU gymnastics fell to Florida in Gainesville and will have to win its meet against Alabama on Friday for a shot at the SEC regular-season title.

“Friday night, for the most part, was a positive step forward for us in the growth of what we’re trying to do and continuing to get better,” head coach Jay Clark said. “We definitely showed we can compete on the road and that was something that we needed to feel really good about. Most nights that performance would’ve been enough to win.”

With the win, No. 5 Florida has clinched at least a share of the SEC title for the sixth consecutive season. If Florida loses to Kentucky next Sunday and LSU beats Alabama, there will be a three-way tie at the top of the SEC standings between LSU, Florida and Kentucky.

Clark said despite the regular-season title being important and something he would like to see LSU take home he is not focused on that heading into the meet with Alabama.

“The mindset for us is to come in here and have a great home performance and beat Alabama,” Clark said. “The regular-season championship is a good thing in that it gives us something that our sport doesn’t naturally give us and that is some worth to wins and losses because otherwise there’s not a lot of that. If we would’ve done what we needed to do in Missouri we wouldn’t even to worry about it. Those things have a way of taking care of themselves.”

LSU heads into the matchup with Alabama with the No. 2 ranking on vault, No. 5 ranking on bars, No. 4 ranking on beam and No. 1 ranking on floor. Haleigh Bryant also remains the No. 1 all-around gymnast in the country for the sixth straight week. Bryant is top-15 in every event.

Kiya Johnson is the No. 20 all-around gymnast and Aleah Finnegan ranks as the No.5 gymnast on floor. Konnor McClain is the No. 10 gymnast on floor.

“I think Aleah [Finnegan] is probably hitting her stride a little bit,” Clark said. “There’s been a lot on that kid this year with all this conversation about the Olympic games and the gymnast that she was for our us last year. She hasn’t expressed any of this, but I’ve seen it enough to know when kids are trying to replicate something or try to one-up themselves or be better than they were the previous year. Early in the year, that’s what it looked like to me as a coach. I think she’s just getting comfortable and confident again and trying to just settle down a bit.”

LSU will host Alabama next Friday, March 1 at 5 p.m. CT in the PMAC. The competition between the Tigers and the Tide will be the squad’s second meet on ESPN2 this year.

Afterwards, LSU will compete in the Podium Challenge meet at the Raising Cane’s River Center on March 8 before finishing the regular season with a home meet against North Carolina on March 15.

The SEC Championships will be on March 23 at the Smoothie King Center. The NCAA Regionals will then be from April 3 to April 7 before the NCAA Championships from April 18 to April 20. 

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Will Nickel

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