If you thought we’d be having an unimpeded, COVID-19 free season, you’d be incorrect. West Virginia was originally slated to travel to Baton Rouge for its season opener. However, the Mountaineers had to withdraw due to COVID protocols within the team. Centenary, originally scheduled to be on a bye this week, answered the last-minute call to compete at the PMAC for the first time since its 2014 opener.
Centenary is a Division III program, the only other NCAA team in the state of Louisiana. The Ladies finished 2021 ranked No. 55. However, the ranking should be taken with a grain of salt as many teams opted out of competition or did not have enough scores to have an NQS. The Ladies scored a season high 192.300 last season, their highest team score since 2015. Centenary is set to have a much improved season this year if it competes to its potential. With additions of Chloe Armentor, Emma Lavelle and Carissa Martinez, the vault start values should be significantly improved. In addition, a majority of the Ladies’ 18-woman roster has gained competitive experience over the last two seasons. Watch out for South Louisiana native Lacey Wedge. She’s been looking strong on floor this preseason, and she’ll have the hometown crowd behind her. Unfortunately, Baton Rouge native Kendall Knaps will be unable to compete tonight. Senior Kendall Sanders has consistently improved as an all-around performer over the last three seasons. Expect no different this year in her last hurrah. Before we get too deep into this… yes, there are three Kendalls on the Centenary roster. No typos here.
Moving onto the hosting LSU Tigers… LSU finished 2021 ranked No. 6 after a somewhat controversial advancement to the national championships. LSU competed at the Utah regional where all four teams were within 0.325 of each other. Some questionable beam scoring gave the Tigers just enough to edge out Kentucky and Arizona State who tied for third.
It should be noted that in recent years LSU has been known for its slow start to the season. Most recently, LSU barely edged out Arizona in its 2021 opener at home. However, a loss to Centenary would mean LSU had a catastrophe of massive proportion. The Tigers shouldn’t be starving for depth, especially if returners such as Elena Arenas and Olivia Dunne contribute more routines than they did in their freshman seasons. LSU returns all its routines from last season and adds Aleah Finnegan, Tori Tatum and KJ Johnson. In addition, watch out for the return of Kai Rivers after she missed all of 2021 with injury. This competition will be our first complete look at the 2022 Tigers as the annual Gym 101 was not streamed. We’ll have to wait and see how healthy LSU is entering 2022 as routines from Reagan Campbell, Christina Desiderio and Sami Durante were left off the start list for Gym 101 last month.
Alright Ladies and Gents. Let’s get ready for this Bayou Brawl! The action is about to start!
Rotation 1: LSU VT, Centenary UB
I will go ahead and start this live blog with a disclaimer. I am a Centenary College alum. However, I have also been known to drive down to Baton Rouge on the Ladies’ bye weeks to see the Tigers compete. With that being said, I will be providing strictly objective commentary.
Rivers (LSU): Okay with the purple glitter wing! Yurchenko full, and she stuck it. Good height. A little short of distance. 9.875
Huff (CC): Vault over, swing half to overshoot handstand. Short on the last handstand. Stuck double tuck dismount. 8.825. The judges gave her a 9.6 SV for that routine.
KJ Johnson (LSU): Yurchenko full. Wow! The height of these vaults is just insane. Nearly stuck landing. 9.90
Deshler (CC): Vault over, blind full, swing half to overshoot. Some leg form on the catch. Double tuck. A little short with a step forward. 8.975
Shchennikova (LSU): Yurchenko 1.5. A little wonky on the landing with a step forward. I’m not sure she was quite ready to land, but overall good vault. Jay Clark want’s Alyona to be an all arounder for LSU as they go through the season. 9.825
Armentor (CC): Blind change to straddle Jaeger. Overshoot, a little loose on the catch. Double tuck dismount. Stuck. 9.025
Edwards (LSU): Yurchenko 1.5. So much power. Large step forward. 9.825
Lavelle (CC): Blind change to straddle Jaeger. Clear hip to overshoot. Better last handstand. Layout flyaway. I’m assuming that’ll be upgraded later in the season. 9.00
Kiya Johnson (LSU): Yurchenko, she does the double! Slight hop back. I think she might be back to her normal on vault this year… I don’t want to jinx it. 9.875
Sanders (CC): Clear hip to Geinger to overshoot. A little short on the last handstand. Hung that double lay up in the air a little longer than I’d like. Small step forward. 9.35
Bryant (LSU): FHS front pike 1/2. The smallest hop… I wanted the stick so badly. The score should still be really high. No other deductions besides the hop. 9.925
Wilson (CC): Toe handstand to Maloney to Pak salto. A near stuck FTDT. Okay girl! That’s six hit bar routines for Centenary. 9.70
AFTER ONE: LSU 49.400, Centenary 46.05
LSU is already looking much improved on vault over last season. It already got a couple stuck landings, and it’s only the first meet of the season. Of course air awareness on a couple of the vaults will improve later in the season, but this is a good place to start. Kiya Johnson looked really sharp on her Yurchenko double full today. I hope she stays healthy enough to keep vaulting like that the entire season.
Centenary went 6/6 on its bar routines today which is a real accomplishment! Right now, its scoring potential is being held back by start values and up to level deductions on the first few routines. I’m sure upgrades are on the horizon in the near future. Taylor Ann Wilson came to show why she’s the reigning USAG national champion on bars today.
Rotation 2: Centenary VT, LSU UB
Lavelle (CC): Yurchenko layout. Small hop. Decent height. Shuffle steps back. 9.425
Kiya Johnson (LSU): Short first handstand. Maloney to bail. Good last handstand. Toe handstand. Slight hop on the double lay. Good start for the Tigers. 9.825
Leilani Johnson (CC): Yurchenko layout. Good height. Large hop back. Alicia and John say to twist it… I agree. 9.525
Rivers (LSU): Toe hand to maloney to overshoot, toe circle. Good last handstand. Big Tkatchev. Small step on the double layout. I thought she had the stick on that one. 9.875
Sanders (CC): Yurchenko half. She stuck it! A low squat on the landing, but the feet didn’t move. She’s excited about that one! 9.80. I think that ties her career high, but y’all can fact check me.
Dunne (LSU): Tkatchev to Pak salto. Smooth connection. These handstands are so good. Double layout. A college stick… Soft knees in the air. 9.925
Wedge (CC): FHS front tuck. She missed the timing on the block today. Landed short. 8.90
Bryant (LSU): Blind change to Jaeger. Overshoot. She has not missed a handstand. Blind change to stuck double front with a half. I’ve been waiting for this moment. That dismount was insane. 9.925
Huff (CC): Yurchenko tuck full. A little low on the chest on the landing, slight hop back. Good height. 9.70
Shchennikova (LSU): Ray to Pak Salto. Good last handstand. Stuck double layout. Let go a little early in my opinion, so she had to pike down. 9.95
Centenary is only putting up five on vault. Armentor was supposed to go, but she was pulled last minute.
Durante (LSU): Blind change, Jaeger. Pak Salto. I’m not sure what just happened. She did a front hip circle when trying to cast. She’s holding her thumb. I think she’s done with that routine. She’s in a lot of pain.
AFTER TWO: LSU 98.900, Centenary 93.400
LSU 100% has been working really hard on its handstands over the offseason. That was a very strong bar rotation even without the score of Sami Durante who went down with injury mid routine. The bar lineup today featured three career highs… It’s the first meet, people! I’m loving seeing Kai Rivers back in all these lineups and looking like she never left. Haleigh Bryant’s upgraded dismount was jaw dropping. If this is what bars looks like day one, I can’t wait to see it in post season. Here’s to hoping Durante’s injury isn’t too serious.
Centenary had some strong vaults with good height. Chloe Armentor was pulled from the lineup last minute, so the Ladies were forced to put up only five routines. Therefore, one mistake had to be counted today. Centenary will benefit from adding back in that sixth score. Leilani Johnson… I’m practically begging you to do your full. Thank you.
Rotation 3: LSU BB, Centenary FX
Desiderio (LSU): Switch leap, switch half. BHS LOSO, slight check there. Front Aerial. Finesse. Cat leap to gainer full. Slight shuffle of the feet. 9.85
Martinez (CC): RO double tuck. She lofted that one up there, but didn’t quite rotate it. Her hands are down. I’m not sure she quite trusted it. Front lay, front full. Nice. Switch side to popa. Front full. That last pass might be upgraded later in the season? 8.975
Shchennikova (LSU): Small wobble on the full turn. Front Aerial to beat jump. Solid. BHS LOSO. No wobbles here. Switch leap, split jump. BHS gainer full dismount. Very low, but she stuck it… She fought for that landing. 9.80
Baumgartner (CC): Omg she is getting funky out there! Get it girl! Front layout, front full. RO back tuck? Might be something else later in the season. RO back 1.5. The performance quality was there. I can’t wait to see how it scores once the start value is there. 8.85
Campbell (LSU): Front Aerial, BHS series. Solid. She’s only doing beam this year apparently. Switch leap, switch half. Didn’t make it all the way around with a LARGE check. Stuck RO double full dismount. 9.75
Huff (CC): Double tuck. Good height. Cotton Eyed Joe? Okay! Rudi to split jump. A little loss of control on the jump. It’s line dance central in the PMAC. Back 1.5 to front layout. Solid routine. 9.475
Kiya Johnson (LSU): BHS LOSO. She kind of undercut herself. Wobble. Switch leap, switch leap, split jump. Nice extension. Front toss. So much better. Solid as a rock. Won’t do AA until Auburn meet. BHS back 1.5 dismount. Stuck. That’s a dismount change from last season. 9.80
Lavelle (CC): Double pike. Too much power. Both feet OOB. With a couple steps. FHS front lay, front full. Landed this one on the slope of the floor. Double tuck. Low chest. OOB a third time. Solid tumbling. Will score well once she learns to control all that power. 9.05 with all those OOBs? The judges thought the gymnastics was pretty good too.
Dean (LSU): Side Aerial to BHS. She didn’t get either foot on the beam. Strong leap series. She might not get credit for that series since her feet didn’t touch… front aerial. Solid. Side Aerial to back full. The rest of the routine was solid, but I’m wondering what the start value will be… John jinxed her by telling us Dean didn’t miss a routine last season. 9.00
Sanders (CC): Double pike. Chest up, good control. Switch side, popa. Rudi to double stag jump. Front full to front layout. I think her forehead skimmed the floor. She’s on her back now. I think she just ran out of juice. Mistimed that last pass a bit. I hope she’s okay. That was scary. 8.95
Bryant (LSU): Front Aerial BHS. Finesse. Switch leap, straddle 1/4. solid. Punch front. Had to step out of it with an arm wave. Punch Rudi dismount. Stuck. 9.875 I might’ve gone slightly lower honestly given the landing on her punch front.
Wedge (CC): Huge double pike. Over rotates it and goes OOB. Switch side, popa. Some feet. Front layout, front full. OOB again. Double tuck to finish. Her best landing by far. She’s crying with joy. I cannot handle this right now. 9.275
AFTER THREE: LSU 147.975, Centenary 139.125
LSU had a little case of the jitters on beam today. A few checks here and there left the team beam score a little lower than LSU would typically like to see. This lineup was definitely highlighted by Bryant’s 9.875. I assume this lineup will settle in and get in its groove as the season progresses.
Centenary’s floor could feel the effect of limited numbers on the competition sized floor. Most of the routines had plenty of power, but the OOB line must’ve had a magnet on it that pulled the Ladies over. This floor lineup will benefit from extra time and more competitive experience. This was the competitive floor debut for half of the floor lineup, so I’d expect floor to only get better later in the season.
Rotation 4: Centenary BB, LSU FX
John is really boosting Division III athletics! RT. RT.
Molina (CC): Beat to straddle half. A little off, but covers well. HS BHS LOSO. Balance check. Switch leap to tuck 3/4. A little short of the split position. Cat leap to front Aerial. She fought for that one. Large break at the hips. Ladies! Gainer front full dismount. Not quite enough umph there. Several side steps, and off the mat. 9.10
Bryant is getting treatment. She will not do floor. Desiderio is the new anchor.
Edwards (LSU): Front double full. Nice! I love this music for her! Front full, front full. A little too much power and loss of control but stays in bounds. RO double tuck. Small shuffle back. 9.825
Baumgartner (CC): A unique headstand mount. Split 3/4 solid. BHS LOSO. Solid. Split jump, wolf 3/4. A little short of position. Illusion. Unique. Very hard skill. But she doesn’t quite stay on today. Punch front full. Step back on the landing. She had a good routine going until the fall. 8.75
Ballard (LSU): I love her performance quality. Double layout. Very short. Are her ankles okay? Back 1.5 to front layout. Good. Switch ring, switch half. Nice. Double pike. Flirted with the OOB line, but she keeps it in. Very good routine minus the first landing. I really love her new floor dance. 9.75
Deshler (CC): Front Aerial BHS series. A slow connection, but it’ll work. Beat to double stag jump. Small wobble. Switch leap, tuck 3/4. Good. Cartwheel to gainer full dismount. Hop to salute the judges. 9.55
Arenas (LSU): Front double full. Good height and control. Front lay, front full. Strong leap pass. Double pike. A little low on the chest with a step forward. Opened up a little early. 9.775
Martinez (CC): Switch leap, switch side. Arm wave. Front toss, back tuck. She got so excited that she was still on the beam that she almost made herself wobble. Beat jump, supposed to be straddle half I think. Under rotated. Gainer pike off the end. Step back. 9.60
KJ Johnson (LSU): FTDT. Good height. Wow. Back 1.5 to front layout. A little leg crossing on the twist. I love this routine too! Double tuck. Strong finish. Casually tries to kick herself in the back of the head. This score should be strong. And she’s just a freshman… 9.90. It’s casual.
Lavelle (CC): BHS LOSO. I thought it looked solid? Big wobble transitioning to the dance. Cat leap to switch side. Sideways full turn. Cat leap to side Aerial. She’s fighting. Large balance check. RO back 1.5. Very high. Step forward. 9.475
Shchennikova (LSU): AA champ if she’s on her feet. Overcooked that front double full a little. Covers with a dance move. Back 1.5 to front full. Smooth connection. Very wonky leap connection… and that’s to say, it was not connected. Rudi to split jump. Nice finish. The leap will be the largest deduction. 9.725 without a leap series is a choice.
Sanders (CC): BHS Layout two feet. A small check. Switch leap, tuck full, beat jump. A little slow on the connections. Stuck tuck front full dismount. A good finish for the Ladies. 9.65
Oh just kidding. The meet is over. Desiderio is indeed NOT going.
Final: LSU 196.950, Centenary 186.550
Minus the random one-offs on floor, this was a really strong showing for LSU. Vault and bars overall look good for the first meet of the season. Beam could use a little more confidence in its performance, but I assume that will come with time. Floor absolutely needs Haleigh Bryant and Kiya Johnson if I’m being honest. I’m glad the Tigers can explore some depth while resting Kiya Johnson, however. If I had to pick a single athlete that I was most impressed with today, I’d have to go with KJ Johnson. She stepped into the lineups like this was indeed NOT her first day out here, scoring matching 9.9s on floor and vault. I’m wondering where Aleah Finnegan was tonight. She looked so strong in the highlights from Gym 101. Hopefully, she’s only out for short term reasons, and we’ll see her soon.
Centenary’s 186.55 is its highest season opening score since 2015. The Ladies will definitely be happy with their start today. Highlights included Kendall Sander’s 9.80 stuck Yurchenko half and Taylor Ann Wilson’s strong showing on bars. The foundation has been laid for an improved season if the Ladies can figure out how to stay in bounds on floor and continue to add in upgrades across the events.
I really appreciated the shameless plug for Division III gymnastics. Today’s meet means so much more to these athletes than being on national television for the first time. It means exposure for all of Division III athletics. Don’t give up on your dream of being a college athlete just because Division I offers aren’t rolling in. Just food for thought.
AA Winner: Alyona Shchennikova (39.30)
VT Winner: Haleigh Bryant (9.925)
UB Winner: Alyona Shchennikova (9.95)
BB Winner: Haleigh Bryant (9.875)
FX Winner: KJ Johnson (9.90)
Live Blog by Tavia Smith
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