By: Brittney Achord
Da Boot Sports!
LSU Tiger Gymnastics vs. Arkansas Razorback Gymnastics 2021 Season Opener:
A 10 for the Win!
BATON ROUGE, La: No truer words could have been said about Friday night’s season opener for LSU Gymnastics by Michael Smith, LSU Sports Announcer, “A 10 For The Win! I’ve waited 27 years to say that in the PMAC. A walk-off 10 for the win. Wow. Just wow.” The Tigers would claw their way to a win scoring 196.55 over the Arkansas Razorbacks 196.35.
While the LSU Tiger Gymnastics team did not have the record breaking crowd of over 10,000 in the PMAC for the 2021 season opener, the 2,553 in attendance made sure to make up for those who could not be there. As Garth Brooks was playing as loud as any other meet, the crowd was “Callin’ Baton Rouge” with him. The Tiger gymnastics team has declared this season as “Unprecedented” and they did a fantastic job at showing everyone how unprecedented it is going to be.
As Jay Clark took the floor tonight in his eighth season with the Tigers, he also took the floor as only the 3rd new Head Coach in LSU Gymnastics history. By his side, Bob Moore took the floor for his 21st season as Assistant Coach and hands down the best vaulting coach in the NCAA. Joining both of these phenomenal coaches in her 10th season as Volunteer Assistant Coach was former LSU gymnast, Ashleigh Clare-Kearney. The newest addition to this dream team, the 17-time All-American, Ashleigh “Bugs” Gnat would not be able to join the Tigers tonight due to COVID.
“It was really good to get a win to start this season," LSU Gymnastics head coach Jay 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 LSU Tigers would open on vault for the first time since February 28, 2020. The Tiger lineup tonight included three freshmen, two sophomores, and a fierce senior. Freshman duos Elena Arenas and Chase Brock would get the Tigers started with matching scores of 9.775. Senior Sarah Edwards would continue to build the Tigers vault score with a 9.875 as she excelled through the air with a Yurchenko full and a half, finding the mat with a small step on the landing.
You will hear a lot about the next two gymnasts this season and seasons to come. Sophomore Kiya Johnson and Freshman Haleigh Bryant. While we have seen a more difficult vault than the Yurchenko full from Johnson, she performed this first vault of the season with beautiful form, outstanding height and distance, and the smallest hop on the landing scoring a 9.85. Johnson would set the stage for Freshman Haleigh Bryant who would not only perform a dynamic front handspring front pike half, she would amplify the night with the first 9.90 of the 2021 vault season and take first place in the event for the night. These five Tigers would finish the first vault rotation of the 2021 season with a 49.175. The depth and dynamics this Tiger gymnastics team has on the vault is setting up to do great things this 2021 season as they do each and every year.
While the Tigers were on Vault, the Razorbacks finished the Uneven Bars with a 49.25 putting them in the lead by .075.
Up next, the uneven bars. The Tigers would show an abundance of grace and poise, bringing out the “Stick Crown” for the first time in the 2021 season sticking four out of the six landings. Tonight’s bar lineup would include a freshmen trio, sophomore duo, and a ferocious senior. Once again, Sophomore Kiya Johnson would get the Tigers started with elegant lines, beautiful pointed toes, and a huge double layout landing with her feet glued to the mat. This would not only start the Tigers off with a 9.875, it would also bring out the “Stick Crown” for the first time in the 2021 season, and it would stay out for the remainder of the bar line up.
Behind Johnson would be the freshman trio: Chase Brock, Olivia Dunne, and Haleigh Bryant. While Brock struggled to find handstands in this routine, she nailed the landing with a full twisting double back, scoring a 9.75 and taking over the Stick Crown. Despite nursing an ankle injury, Olivia Dunne would open her LSU Gymnastics career with an uneven bar routine filled with beautiful lines, smooth transitions, and a dynamic double layout dismount with a stuck landing. Dunne would score a 9.875 to continue the Tiger momentum. Freshman Haleigh Bryant would follow with elegant lines, pointed toes, and a beautiful double front dismount with the smallest step on the landing. Bryant would bring the Tigers a 9.85. Tonight the uneven bars would go to Senior Sami Durante and her 9.90. Durante would anchor on bars with exquisite lines, smooth transitions, and a full twisting double back that would hand over the Stick Crown. LSU would finish on the uneven bars with a 49.20 and set the stage for a tremendous bar team this 2021 season. This would also put the Tigers on top 98.375 to Arkansas’ 98.175.
While the Tigers would go into balance beam with a ton of energy, they would struggle to find their balance. Tonight the lineup would include Freshman Elena Arenas, Sophomore Kiya Johnson, and Seniors Christina Desiderio, Sami Durante, Bridget Dean, and Reagan Campbell. The seasoned senior Christina Desiderio would start the Tigers off strong with graceful leaps, elegant dancing, amplified flight series, and a stuck landing that would score a 9.875. While Freshman Elena Arenas would have difficulty tonight scoring a 9.575, she showed the greatness to come as the season progresses. Arenas would be followed by Senior Sami Durante who would score a 9.70. Next would be Senior Bridget Dean who would not only give the best beam performance of the night, she would also score a career high of a 9.90 missing the beam title by .025 behind Araknsas’ Kennedy Hambrick’s 9.925. Senior Reagan Campbell would anchor on beam tonight scoring a 9.775.
While the Tigers finished the balance beam with a 48.825 and struggled to find their balance tonight, they showed how much potential there is for the rest of the season.
With Arkansas’ 49.10 on floor, the Tigers would once again fall behind by .075 with a total score of 147.275 to LSU’s 147.20.
The fourth and final event, the floor. The Tigers have dominated the floor in many years past and they dominated it again tonight. The Tigers would bring down the PMAC with powerful tumbling, artistic dancing, and energy that had the crowd on their feet.
Tonight’s lineup would start off with a senior trio of Bridget Dean, Sarah Edwards, and Christina Desiderio, followed by Sophomore Alyona Shchennikova, Freshman Haleigh Bryant, and anchored by Sophomore Kiya Johnson. While Dean had a great performance, the Tigers would drop her score of a 9.625 and get things going with Senior Sarah Edward’s 9.875. Edward’s energy would flow through to Senior Christina Desiderio who not only kept the energy going, but scored an electrifying 9.85. While Sophomore Alyona Shchennikova would perform beautifully, the Tigers would count her 9.65.
It was the Freshman - Sophomore final showdown that captured a win for the Tigers! With Freshman Haleigh Bryant’s first time on the floor for the LSU Tigers, she would make a gigantic statement scoring a 9.975.
This would set the scene for Sophomore Kiya Johnson. With Arkansas having trouble on beam, Johnson would need a 9.825 to declare victory for the Tigers in their season opener and she did just that, and then some! Johnson showed an enormous amount of spirit, amplitude, grace, and more scoring the 3rd perfect 10 of her career, 1st perfect 10 on floor, 1st perfect 10 for the 2021 NCAA Women’s Gymnastics season, and tying volunteer coach Ashleigh Clare-Kearney for the earliest perfect 10.0 scored in the history of LSU gymnastics.
With the final score of 196.550 to 196.350, the LSU Tigers would win their 2021 season opener, bringing their SEC record to 1-0, and scoring in the top three out of the other eight SEC teams this weekend. With a Tiger team packed with this much talent, energy and drive, the 2021 season is going to be, as the girls say, “unprecedented.”
Photos Below By: Brittney Achord