Home-State Heroine LSU Claims 2024 SEC Title

There’s something about competing in New Orleans that brings out the best in the LSU Tigers.

Five years to the day that the Tigers won their last SEC championship in New Orleans, wearing a reimagined version of the same leotard, the Tigers won their fifth conference title in front of a predominantly purple and gold fanbase.

“It means an awful lot,” Clark said post-meet. “This is a great group. I’m very proud of how they have gone about their business all year long. To come in here and do it in front of our fans is pretty special.”

Despite the scores, the championship was what Clark called a “meat grinder” from beginning to end. The first rotation found LSU and Alabama tied with 49.475s. The Crimson Tide started on floor and ended with four straight scores of 9.900 or higher while LSU ended its vault rotation with Kiya Johnson and Haleigh Bryant scoring 9.925 and 9.975, respectively. 

The second rotation saw sophomore Ashley Cowan score a 9.950, tying her with Missouri’s Mara Titarsolej for the SEC bars title. It was something that Clark said made him proud. “It takes everybody…I was hard on [Cowan] as a freshman, and I told her after, ‘Now you’re a killer.’”

Heading into beam, LSU saw Konnor McClain secure the SEC beam title with the event’s only perfect 10. Seeing the underclassmen succeed was a “proud mom moment” for Bryant.

“We see it every single day in the gym, and I’m just really glad they went out there and did their normal,” she said. “I’m glad they got to show everyone in this arena what they’ve been working for.”

Despite the perfect 10 from McClain, Kentucky used a 9.975 from Raena Worley on floor, tying her for the event title, to push ahead of LSU by a quarter of a tenth heading to the final rotation. As the No. 1 floor team in the country headed to its signature event, LSU felt a sense of confidence. 

“We’re a pretty confident group on floor. We knew if we could keep it close going into the final rotation, we’d be pretty confident. Floor’s been that way all year long for us. Courtney McCool Griffeth does an amazing job of heading us up over there, and they’re a confident bunch once they get on floor,” Clark noted.

“We have proved ourselves week in and week out [on floor], so there’s no reason for us not to be confident,” senior Kiya Johnson said. “We just wanted to have a floor party and treat it like a Friday night in the PMAC.”

The confidence paid off. McClain led off with a 9.925, and Amari Drayton followed with a 9.850. An out-of-bounds call for Aleah Finnegan brought her score to a 9.750, but two 9.975s from Kiya Johnson and KJ Johnson and a 9.950 from Bryant sealed the deal to deliver Clark his first SEC title as head coach. 

Clark recalled how he was an “emotional basket case” when the Tigers won in 2017 under then-head coach D.D. Breaux. Now that he’s won his first, his focus was on letting the team celebrate. “I’m sure it’ll sink in. I’m sure I’ll reflect on it and have more of an emotional reaction at some point.”

“We wanted to do it for [Clark], he gives us so much…we seriously couldn’t do it without him. The confidence and how much he believes in us, that makes us confident. I couldn’t ask for a better head coach,” Bryant said.

As the Tigers look toward regionals, Bryant said that an SEC title was exactly what her team needed moving forward, but she knows there is more to improve upon. “We weren’t perfect tonight. We’re going to work on those little details…and if we do that, we’re going to get there.”

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Article by Savanna Wellman

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