Da Boot Sports
LSU Sports Communications
By: Alyssa Leal
FORT WORTH, Texas – Through one of the most improbable journeys, the LSU Gymnastics program has once again punched its ticket to the NCAA Championship after finishing in the top spot at NCAA Semifinal I, Thursday afternoon at Dickies Arena.
The Tigers finished on top in the afternoon semifinal with a team score of 197.475 to advance to Saturday’s championship. Fellow SEC counterpart Florida (197.400) also advanced out of the first semifinal session. California finished third with a score of 196.9125 and Denver finished fourth with 196.500 in the prelims.
“I am just so proud of this team. They are such a special group. I just wanted to enjoy the ride and take it as far as we possibly could,” said head coach Jay Clark. “We’ve been riding the wave and going where it takes us. The adversity of this team has been spoken about so much and you saw the fight in them today. At the end of the meet, I just told them how in awe I am of them. I want them to enjoy these moments.”
LSU has now advanced to the NCAA team final nine times in school history. This marks the second time since the Four on the Floor format began in 2019 that LSU has advanced to the championship and first time under head coach Jay Clark.
The squad will compete for the program’s first NCAA Championship at 3 p.m. CT on Saturday, April 15, at Dickies Arena. The meet, which will air live on ABC, will feature LSU, Florida and the top two finishers from Semifinal II featuring Oklahoma, Utah, UCLA and Kentucky. The Tigers’ rotation will be determined following the evening semifinal and will be based on the teams’ NQS.
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.
“We’ve had so much adversity, but Jay always says that if we want to honor someone, then do it with your actions,” said Bryant. “We just want to do our best gymnastics for those people that can’t contribute right now.”
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. The NCAA championships will be determined by the performer with the top score in all four events and the all-around following the second semifinal on Thursday night.
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 confirmation for the floor lineup, gave the Tigers a crucial performance and scored 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 after scoring a 49.250 on vault. 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. The Tigers stayed in second following both Cal and Denver counting a fall and sat just .100 behind Florida with their score of 148.000.
LSU needed five hit routines to advance to the national championship and Jay Clark’s bars lineup delivered six-for six hit routines. Freshman Ashley Cowan and sophomore Tori Tatum made their NCAA debuts and delivered with their scores of 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.
The 49.475 bars score tied for the second highest on the event at the NCAA Championships in school history and secured the Tigers trip to the championship.
LSU and Florida now await the conclusion of Semifinal II to determine the two remaining teams in the final four and the championship rotation.