On Friday, LSU competed in the Denver regional semifinals. The Tigers scored a 197.375 to tie Oregon State and advance to the final on Sunday. The Tigers will also compete against Denver and Michigan and the top two will advance to the national semifinals.
It’s no question that LSU has had a difficult year. Kiya Johnson had a season-ending Achilles injury, KJ Johnson broke her foot stepping off a mat, and a handful of other gymnasts have had smaller but impactful injuries as well. Despite the adversity that they’ve struggled with, the Tigers entered the postseason as the sixth-ranked team in the country. Thanks to the depth of the team, they were able to continue competing like their usual selves.
LSU has quite an impressive roster. Gymnasts who don’t make the lineup right away still have outstanding routines that are capable of being very competitive. As Alyona Shchennikova said, “ our team is so deep. So we were so fortunate to have so many numbers. So if anything did happen, we would have backups after backup after backup.”
Sierra Ballard is one of those backups who stepped up to the plate when some of her teammates went down. Last year, Ballard was a mainstay in the floor lineup. This year, she added beam to her repertoire.
“The way that things went is probably not ideal, but I’m very thankful and grateful for the opportunity to be in this lineup,” said Ballard. “It gave me an opportunity to step into my own and figure out my confidence in that event.”
But, injuries aren’t the only thing that the Tigers had to adjust to when heading into regionals. If you’re a college gymnastics fan, you’ll remember that LSU fell short of qualifying for nationals last year. The Tigers scored a 196.575 in round two of regionals, which was only enough to place third in their semifinal. This year, they tied for first place in their session, even with some uncharacteristic mistakes.
“We look tired in some spots, and I also think some of that was psychological because of the way regionals went for us last year,” said head coach Jay Clark. “I think they were kind of walking around with that kind of monkey on their back.”
Sierra Ballard had similar thoughts. “Even if none of us really talked about last year, it was kind of in the back of all of our minds,” said Ballard. But despite the nerves surrounding last year’s result, LSU will be making its return to the regional final.
Now that LSU has gotten past the round that tripped it up last year, the Tigers are looking forward to the final and hopefully even further. Postseason can be a nerve-wracking time of the year, but Haleigh Bryant says that the key is “just trying to block out all the outside noise.” The Tigers will have to remember their training and trust that they’re ready for Sunday. As Jay Clark said, “you’re not here because you can’t, you’re here because you can.”
Article by Emily Lockard
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