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LSU 101: A Legend Passing the Torch to Greatness... LSU Gymnastics looking strong under new Leadership
By: Brittney Achord
Da Boot Sports!
LSU Gymnastics unofficially kicked off their 2021 season with their first time back in the PMAC
since their win over Arkansas on February 21, 2020. This third-ranked team put on a show last night and gave a sneak peak at the season to come. This is the eighth-straight season the Tigers are going into a season ranked in the top-five of the preseason poll and the 24th consecutive season ranked in the top-15.
This season will be like no other. With the change in coaching, five freshman, seven sophomores who did not get a full season in 2020, and the COVID pandemic, these girls have some hurdles to jump over.
"This is going to be a really unique year, and it is imperative to do our best to maintain our routine and traditions that our fans and team are used to," head coach Jay Clark said. "This event is exceptionally important for our team. The ability to get into the arena and acclimate to that space and equipment cannot be overvalued. We know our fans really enjoy it as well so we wanted to make sure there was an opportunity for them to see in person or online."
The scene last night was one I have not seen in the 30 years. I have been a part of the LSU Gymnastics program. Even with the free 101 event, there has never been such an empty PMAC for a Tiger Gymnastics meet. That did not stop these girls from flying high, flipping fast, and making a statement that this is the year for greatness.
As the night got started, new head coach Jay Clark spoke briefly about how the night would go and what we would see, then proudly handed the mic over to the legend herself, Coach DD Breaux. Coach DD along with the great Mike Smith would cover the commentary for the night and what a phenomenal job they did. They made sure to keep the crowd excited, informed, and cheering on these girls.
Having only five of six scores count for each event, it is so important to try and get those 10.0 start values, as many bonus points as possible, and minimal deductions. According to Assistant Coach and Vault Coach Bob Moore, he has seven girls training vaults with 10.0 start values. While we will see Yurchenko Full twisting vaults tonight, many are training one and a half twists and one double twisting Yurchenko. LSU has a stacked vault lineup with three powerhouse freshmen, two dominating sophomores, and a senior like no other.
Freshman Elena Arenas started the night off amplifying the crowd as she soared high above
the vault taking a hop on the landing. Arenas would be followed by Freshman Chase Brock who also got plenty of amplitude fighting to make that landing count. Sophomore Alyona Shchennikova put a stamp on the mat sticking the landing at third in the lineup. If the “Stick Crown” were here tonight, she would have gotten her crown on this landing. Next in the lineup is freshman Haleigh Bryant and boy is she one to watch this season. With a 10.0 start value, her Pike front half vault is full of amplitude, beautiful lines, and a gorgeous landing. Senior Sarah Edwards would come fourth in the lineup bringing the experience with her. Another 10.0 start value, Edwards vault is as dynamic as her personality. Closing out the vault lineup for the Tigers is the great and powerful Kiya Johnson. Only having half a season as a freshman, this sophomore has so much to bring to this team. Though she did not perform the vault she will be competing this season, it was still a huge sneak peak of what is to come.
Over to the uneven bars, coach Jay has a lineup that extends well past the 6 competitors. Tonight the three freshmen, two sophomores, and a senior as the anchor hyped up this crowd for what they will see this 2021 season. Sophomore Kiya Johnson got it started off with hit handstands, beautifully pointed toes, and a powerful double layout dismount. While she did not give us a sneak of the upgrade she has been practicing, we are assured we will see it come January 8th when the Tigers take on Arkansas in their first official meet of the 2021 season. Followed by Johnson were the freshmen trio: Chase Brock, Olivia Dunne, and Haleigh Bryant. All three did a tremendous job swinging with straight lines and hitting those handstands. Bringing up the fifth spot in the lineup was the graceful sophomore Alyona Shchennikova. With hit handstands, straight lines, pointed toes, and just a minor hop on the dismount Alyona’s routine is setting up to be a high scoring routine. It was Senior Sami Durante’s anchor position that stole the spotlight of the night on uneven bars with an unofficial score of 9.95 by the guest judge. This bar team is dynamite!
It is with no question that the balance beam is always a make-or-break event. You are speaking of an apparatus that is 4 inches wide, 16 feet long, and 4 feet off the floor. Gymnasts must perform a combination of leaps, turns, dance moves, and tumbling on this miraculous event with poise and grace and absolutely no fear. The Tiger lineup for the 2021 season includes freshman Elena Arenas, a Sophomore Duo with Alyona Shchennikova and Kiya Johnson, and a Senior Trio with Christina Desiderio, Sami Durante, and Bridget Dean. Tonight Desiderio kicked off balance beam with a routine that did not waiver. It was elegant, sharp, and finished with a stuck landing. There was no question that this senior came to make a statement for this Tiger Beam Team this 2021 season and with the help of her teammates who followed in her footsteps it was a powerful statement.
The final event of the evening and by far the favorite by the gymnasts and fans, the Floor. Tonight we got a preview of not only the six gymnasts who will be competing this 2021 season but once again, the deep roster that extends past those six. This LSU Tiger team is stacked full on each event with more than the six allowed competitors. Tonight on the floor we got to see Sophomore Alyona Shchennikova, Freshman Elena Arenas, Seniors Olivia Gunter, Christina Desiderio, and Sarah Edwards, Freshman Haleigh Bryant, and anchor Sophomore Kiya Johnson. These girls, along with Senior Bridget Dean, Freshman Sierra Ballard, and Junior Rebecca D’Antonio, rocked the house down with powerful tumbling, leaps showing off their flexibility, and dancing to match their fun and lively personalities. The Floor has been an event LSU has dominated for years resulting in numerous floor titles at all three levels: SEC, Regional, and National. This year will be no different.
If anyone questioned how this Tiger team would handle not only a change in coaching, an
extensive freshman lineup, and COVID restrictions they got their answer tonight. This Tiger team has one goal in mind and is on a mission to achieving that goal, National Champions. While LSU Gymnastics may not be setting any record breaking attendance numbers as they do every year, they will definitely be breaking some scoring records. This is such a dynamic team. They bring power, grace, and heart which is a recipe for success this 2021 season.
Photos By: Brittney Achord