Aleah Finnegan celebrates while competing for LSU.

Climbing Through Adversity Brings No. 13 LSU to a Season High in Loss vs. No. 1 Oklahoma

According to Jay Clark, the LSU Tigers are currently going through the gymnastics equivalent of the Chicago Bulls losing Michael Jordan.

“We’ve been through some stuff,” Clark said in his post-meet press conference after pushing the Sooners to the brink Monday, but ultimately losing 197.600 to 197.450. The meet came three days after the Tigers lost senior all-arounder Kiya Johnson to an Achilles injury on floor at Kentucky. “The emotion surrounding that was just hard…but [today] they competed fearlessly. The growth we showed today was measurable, and that’s encouraging.”

In the first rotation, LSU maintained four 10.0 start values on vault as junior Chase Brock replaced Johnson’s Yurchenko double full with a Yurchenko one and a half. The Sooners opened their bar rotation with three straight 9.850s from Danielle Sievers, Danae Fletcher and Faith Torrez, posting a 49.400 to LSU’s 49.325 on vauly, a season high for the Tigers. Haleigh Bryant vaulted her way to a share of the event title with a 9.925 while senior Ragan Smith won the bars title outright with a 9.950.

On bars, sophomore Alexis Jeffrey moved to the leadoff role with a routine that Clark says has similar composition to Johnson’s. Sophomore Tori Tatum also made her highly anticipated competitive debut in Jeffrey’s former spot. The Sooners took full advantage of their difficulty on vault by competing six 10.0 start values. Katherine LeVasseur, currently only competing one event due to a back injury, shared the vault title with Bryant with a 9.925. At the end of the second rotation, the Tigers ultimately trimmed the lead down to half a tenth.

Beam was where the biggest adjustments were made for the Tigers due to injuries. Besides Johnson, freshman Bryce Wilson was unavailable due to a fall on beam at Kentucky. Clark said they entered her into a concussion protocol as a precaution, and she may be back in lineups as soon as the next meet on Friday vs. Missouri.

LSU put Sierra Ballard in Wilson’s spot on beam and kept junior Elena Arenas in after Arenas scored a 9.925 in the anchor spot against the Wildcats. Byrant earned her second event title of the meet, scoring a 9.950. As for the Sooners, Fletcher made her season debut on floor with an upgraded E pass, a triple twist. Oklahoma’s lead widened as it headed to beam, where it was tied for the No. 1 score in the country last week. 

In the fourth rotation, Johnson was replaced again by Brock, who had a fall on her final tumbling pass. Despite the mistake, though, LSU managed to tally four scores of 9.900 or better, earning another season high of 49.450. Sophomore Aleah Finnegan won the floor title outright with a 9.950, a marked improvement from Friday night. The Sooners were on beam during the same rotation, where sophomore Jordan Bowers concluded her all-around program by earning a share of the beam title with a 9.950. Head coach KJ Kindler believed that her hot start on the event has helped her consistency.

“[Bowers] only competed [balance beam] five times last year…not long enough to get into a groove of it,” Kindler said. “Her confidence is rising every time she goes up. She does that routine often in practice. Getting it out in the meet is the hurdle we are having to overcome.”

Kindler knows her team had to claw to get the win in what she calls one of the toughest places to compete in the country. “You don’t get this environment anywhere else, with the exception of Florida. It’s great to get a win…but we look at our performances more than that. We missed a lot of landings today.” With Oklahoma’s home opener vs. No. 5 Utah ahead of it, Kindler believes her team is ready for the challenge.

“I have no doubt [the Utes are] going to be absolutely ready. It’s been a hard two weeks already with the competition we’ve have had to see, so we’ll just add Utah to the list.”

As for Clark and his Tigers, while the general public may not have expected them to pull off the upset, he knew there was always a chance. Moving forward, Clark knows that his team will have a new routine to adapt to and that the gymnasts stepping up for Johnson will have to continue to be ready.

“Today, our success was rooted in a lot of emotion. That’s not going to be here forever. [They have to] be prepared because you never know when your number is going to get called.”

READ THIS NEXT: LIVE BLOG: No. 1 Oklahoma at No. T-10 LSU

Article by Savanna Whitten

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