It’s another exciting night of broadcast gymnastics, as this Top 10 matchup featuring the Gators goes to ESPN2!
LSU has had its ups and downs this year, but eighth overall and third in the SEC is not half bad for a team without a few of its stars. Fifth-year leader Kiya Johnson tore her Achilles a few weeks ago, and promising freshman Bryce Wilson suffered a concussion the same night. Still, the Tigers have pressed on – all-arounders Haleigh Bryant and Aleah Finnegan have both turned in hit after hit over the last several weeks. Also watch for KJ Johnson on vault and floor, super senior Kai Rivers on beam, and junior Sierra Ballard on floor – their routines are typically highlights, and high scores from them should indicate that LSU is getting some of the supporting scores it needs to stay in the game.
But Florida does come into this matchup with the edge, though not by much. With three all-arounders ranked in the top 15 – Trinity Thomas, Leanne Wong, and Kayla DiCello – and a variety of supporting scores to choose from, the Gators are looking to solidify themselves as national title contenders with a stellar away score in Baton Rouge tonight. Last week, landings on vault were visibly improved, bars landings and handstands were dialed in, and they may have locked in their postseason six on beam. Floor landings were also some of the best they’ve been almost all season, so now that they’ve done it once, competitors like Blakely and Richards, who aren’t always in the lineup, will want to prove they can repeat that kind of performance.
One theory based on last week’s lineups is that head coach Jenny Rowland has now found what she believes to be her postseason lineups and is running them already. However, because she has to wait for Rachel Baumann to return to vault after an elbow tweak a month ago in competition warmups and Savannah Schoenherr to heal up for bars after breaking her foot the day before the season began, she has subs currently competing in the anchor spots in their places. Last week, this was Chloi Clark on vault and Payton Richards on bars. Tonight, one might hope for the return of Baumann, as she’s competed on floor regularly since taking a week off for the injury. As far as Schoenherr, Rowland shared in a press conference after the first meet that they expected her recovery timeline to be about six weeks, so we’re about at the point where we may see her return as well.
If there were a meet to do it, tonight is one of the two left before postseason that’s most important for the Gators to win, as LSU is one of their most challenging opponents left. It all starts at 9pm ET on ESPN 2 or 8pm CT in the PMAC, but if you can’t make either one, we’ll have your play-by-play right here with all the action!
8:56pm: I have a sneaking suspicion this basketball game is going to run over… we’ll see.
Seeing reports that Sloane Blakely was ill this week and will be limited to two events.
9:06pm: Here we go!
Arenas, LSU VT: Yfull, very floaty in the air, little bounce on the landing. Nice height shown in the slow-mo, good distance too.
Blakely, UB: Maloney to pak salto, some leg separation in the Maloney. Good final handstand. Double front, overcooks it a little and takes a bound forward.
Shchennikova, VT: Y1.5, little bit of bent knees in the air, little bit of a squat on that landing, has to scoot back under her to steady herself on the landing.
Nguyen, UB: Great opening handstand! Maloney to pak salto, big leg separations in both. Handstand on the low bar looked a little muscled. Short on the high bar final handstand. DLO, little hop forward – that’s not normal from V, hope she can shake it and move on.
9:09pm: Finnegan, VT: Omelianchik, which is a Yurchenko half-on front pike, little slide forward. Gorgeous in the air though.
DiCello, UB: Short first handstand. Big Ray! Pak salto is clean. van Leeuwen solid. Full out dismount, just a little bounce in place. That’s more like it.
Brock, VT: Y1.5, big step forward.
Thomas, UB: Short opening handstand. Maloney to pak, both clean. Low bar handstand work is fine. van Leeuwen looked a little low for her? DLO, just DRILLS it, that’s what she needed.
9:13pm: Johnson, VT: Huuuge Yfull, hop back. Just gets absolutely ridiculous height on that, super clean in the air too.
Wong, UB: Great first handstand. Maloney is clean, pak had a little lower leg separation. van Leeuwen is nice! DLO stuck cold!
9:15pm: Bryant, VT: One of the greatest pieces of gymnastics being done in the NCAA right now – handspring pike half and it is STUCK. That’s going to be a 10, I can only imagine.
Richards, UB: We come in partway in, bail is clean. DLO, legs go quite wide as she prepares to land, but she sticks!
AFTER ONE: LSU 49.475, UF 49.425
LSU leading after the first rotation is… not ideal. But also, based on those first routines, Florida should be glad that they’re only 0.05 behind.
9:23pm: Rotation two!
We’re seeing replays of Payton Richards’ touch warmup in slow-mo and it was gnarly, so lineup changes are incoming.
Clark, VT: Yfull, cleaner than last week, and the hop is smaller. Love that she’s working on dialing in that landing to be a good backup for this squad.
Jeffrey, UB: Short on opening handstand. Maloney to pak, big leg separation there on the pak. Short on last handstand. Full twisting double back dismount is stuck, very floaty, high above the bar.
Wong, VT: Yhalf on, pike half off, low on the landing again and crooked, big bounce back. I’m ready for her to call this vault experiment done, it’s not worth it.
Arenas, UB: Big Ray to open! Really funky on the pak, big leg separation. Short on the final handstand. DLO is stuck. Overall I’m not thrilled with anyone on bars tonight…
Richards, VT: Y1.5, little knee bend toward the end, just a small hop on the landing.
Tatum, UB: Great Tkachev, pak is pretty clean. Sticks her full in dismount!
9:29pm: Kathy Johnson Clarke, who’s commentating, just said LSU has gone 9.9 for their first two routines… I cannot justify that. At all.
DiCello, VT: Y1.5, great amplitude, just a small hop on the landing.
Finnegan, UB: Great opening handstand. Incredible piked Deltchev, there’s only a few of those being done in the NCAA, and I think this is the only one piked. Transition is clean. Double front dismount, just a step forward on the landing.
Thomas, VT: Y1.5, just the small hop forward. Got to find a way to drill those landings more.
Shchennikova, UB: Short opening handstand. Pak salto is fine. Short handstand there at the end as well. DLO pings off early but she makes it around somehow, her form is still a mess on that. Can’t really call it laid out at all.
9:33pm: Edwards, VT: Yfull, one of her better ones! Just a small step on the landing, then steps her feet together. Nice and clean in the air, good amplitude too.
Bryant, UB: Good opening handstands. Jaeger is nice. Handstand before her transition is a hair short. Bail is solid. Great last handstand. Double front half out… yeah, I’ll give her the stick on that one.
AFTER TWO: LSU 98.975, UF 98.775
9:43pm: Rotation 3!
Arenas, BB: Switch leap to split jump, maybe a little shy of 180 on the second element. Back handspring layout stepout (bhs loso), nice and solid. Front toss, dead on. Full turn is clean. Switch half, looked 180 to me, no flexed feet either. Roundoff 1.5, a little stutter step on the landing. A good leadoff for them, though.
Nguyen, FX: Mixing up the order of this lineup tonight, it seems. Front double full, maybe a little underdone, the camera angle made it very hard to tell, but she goes into her sissone immediately just fine. Lovely leap series, gorgeous extension and toe point as always. Y turn is excellent as well. 1.5 to front lay, a little larger step than maybe I’d like to see, but keeps it under control. A great leadoff as well!
9:46pm: Shchennikova, BB: Opening mount and full turn are fine. Front aerial to bhs loso, totally straight and steady. Short of 180 on her dance series. Side aerial, small hesitation but covers well, chest maybe a little low. Bhs gainer full is stuck!
Baumann, FX: Double wolf turn to open, stays even-keeled. 1.5 to front full, very precise on the landing and choreography coming out. Gorgeous switch side to straddle jump, gets great height and she’s so far in oversplit! Double pike to close, little bit of a slide on her lunge. Another great routine!
9:51pm: Rivers, BB: Bhs loso to open, locks those arms down. Full turn is steady. Switch half, maybe shy of 180, Kathy agrees with me. Switch leap to straddle 1/4, clean. Roundoff double full is stuck! This meet is going to come down to the last routine, provided everyone stays on their feet.
Richards, FX: DLO to open, doesn’t move her front foot! Good amplitude too. A little bouncy on the landing of her dance series, but straddle positions were clean. 1.5 to… front tuck half to straddle jump? She totally mistimed her punch but I think the jump out of it will make up her the lower skill difficulty? Normally she does a front full, not a front tuck half. We’ll see, I guess.
Johnson, BB: Incredible press handstand to planche mount, just ridiculous back flexibility. Switch leap to back tuck to straddle jump 1/4, such a quick connection. Series is clean too. I think her dismount was stuck? Wow.
Judging conference happening over Richards’s start value. We’ll see what they come up with. 9.675, the straddle jump must not have been enough to make the difference for her.
9:59pm: Wong, FX: Piked double arabian to open, now that she’s taken out the stag jump after, I think it’s gotten a lot better on the landing. Gorgeous and precise throughout her triple dance series. Whip half to front full, came in a little crooked and had to cover with dance.
Bryant, BB: Front aerial to bhs, very calm and steady. Switch leap to straddle 1/4, great 180 positions there. Full turn is fine. Standing front tuck, bobble there. Punch 1.5 twist dismount is stuck! Another strong routine for LSU.
Thomas, FX: Just selling this opening choreo. DLO is back to normal this week, just casually steps her foot back into her lunge because she can. Dance series is clean and precise, lovely extension as always. Front full to front lay, just a little scoot back, she could’ve held onto that. I love how the choreography is sort of a collage of her greatest hits from over the years, Jeremy James Miranda did an incredible job with that routine.
10:04pm: Finnegan, BB: Handstand mount, lovely. Bhs loso loso, sooo solid. Switch leap to split jump, crisp 180 splits on both of those. Front aerial, just lays it in like she’s on the floor. Gainer full dismount is stuck! That could be a perfect score if the judges are feeling it… yup, it’s a 10.0! She’s just one ten away from a gym slam of her own!
DiCello, FX: Front double full to open, just that crossover step on the landing. Switch ring to switch half, great extension and shapes in the air on those. Double wolf, maybe a little wobbly but covers well as she comes out of it. 1.5 to front lay, great control coming out of it. That should easily erase Richards’s score and put Florida a lot closer to LSU.
AFTER THREE: LSU 148.525, UF 148.35
Sam sums up exactly how I’m feeling:
10:17pm: Richards, BB: Full turn is nice and even. Bhs loso, solid. Switch half, hesitates before the beat jump, I don’t think she’ll get that connection. Switch to straddle, that was better. Bhs 1.5, not sure I’d call that a stick but Kathy thinks it was.
Ballard, FX: DLO to open, big step back but doesn’t move the front foot. 1.5 to front lay, clean. Really quick in her switch ring to switch half to knee, good extension though. Double pike to finish, solid landing there.
10:21pm: Lazzari, BB: Bhs loso loso, super secure with it. Switch leap to split jump, great 180 positions there. Front aerial, floats it down. Full turn, fine. Bhs 1.5 twist, little hop on the landing. Can’t be hopping like that when LSU is still so far ahead.
Shchennikova, FX: Front double full, arabesque out of it to cover the bigger step she takes. 1.5 twist to front lay, nice and quick, great twisting form too. Little short of 180 on her switch half in her leap sequence, looked like she just didn’t get any air. Rudi (Front 1.5) to split jump, a little crooked there and travels backward. We’ll see what they actually take.
Nguyen, BB: Fun mount sequence emphasizing her elegant lines. Onodi to bhs, so fresh and so clean. Y turn, big bobble, and that’s probably the meet, barring disaster or an OOB from LSU. Dance series is clean. Gets the stuck dismount though!
Arenas, FX: Front double full to open, big step forward, dragged her back foot forward. A little off rotation on the second wolf element in her triple dance series maybe? I’m not sure what her intended rotation was but it wasn’t a half or a full rotation based on where she originally started. Front lay front full to finish, good for her – tonight is her first time in AA.
10:28pm: DiCello, BB: Candle mount to start is gorgeous as usual. Double wolf, almost has a little trouble at the end but closes it out. Switch to split, great amplitude on those. Bhs loso, dead on! Front aerial, keeps the arms high to help her with balance. Bhs gainer full is stuck! That should be a HUGE score.
Johnson, FX: Full in to open, two steps but no lunge, I think it was to try to stay in bounds, but not sure if she did or not. 1.5 to front lay, great control there. Switch side to Popa, good amplitude on those. Double tuck to finish, just a little slide on that landing. Her power is incredible, she’s so fun to watch!
10:32pm: Thomas, BB: Switch leap mount, lovely. One-arm bhs to loso, solid. Beat jump to bhs swingdown (korbut), quick on the connection. Side aerial to 1.5 is stuck! That might be her first true stick this season! That should be a big one too, wow. It’s a 10.0!
Finnegan, FX: Double arabian to open, to immediate stag jump, gorgeous. 2.5 to punch front, absolutely nails the timing, that can be a tricky one. Switch ring to switch full, a little low on the amplitude on the switch full but I think she gets it all the way around fine. 1.5 to front tuck, I think it’s supposed to be a layout or maybe a pike? She may lose SV but I think she has so much bonus it doesn’t matter.
10:35pm: Wong, BB: Switch leap to split leap, lovely. Bhs loso, super steady. Full turn, lovely. Front aerial to beat jump, she’s patient with it, I think the connection is fine. Roundoff double full, big squat but holds onto the stick!
Bryant, FX: Double front to open, she gets so much pop on that, incredible. Slow-mo shows a little step back on the landing. Front lay to Rudi, very clean, well controlled on the landing. Dance series is clean, if not stellar. Front double full to close, she sticks on two feet! That should be a wild score for her.
FINAL: LSU 198.1, UF 197.975
Well, the undefeated streak is snapped, but 197.975 is still a fabulous away score that Florida will be happy to take into NQS starting next week. I’ll just leave y’all with this, because if I talk about judging inconsistencies, overscoring, or lack of score separation, I’ll never go home. So this about sums it up for me: