BATON ROUGE, La. — LSU is a gymnastics school. And this isn’t going to change any time soon. It’s best to just join on the hype train now while you still can.
The LSU gymnastics team finished as the national runner-up for the second year in a row yesterday with a 197.7375 score and the best team balance beam score in NCAA Championships history. This came 1 day after setting the national semifinal record for best team performance with a 198.275 score and weeks after winning both the regular season and postseason SEC titles.
It was a magical season for the squad, and almost undoubtedly the best team in LSU gymnastics history. And sure, the team has a lot to replace next season when it fills the 8 vacated slots left behind by seniors Ashleigh Gnat, Shae Zamardi and Sydney Ewing. But this team isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. This is a program in ascent, even if it can’t technically ascend all that much higher.
With that in mind, here are 5 takeaways from the 2017 LSU gymnastics season, and a couple of trends to look forward to in 2018.
1. Ashleigh Gnat should be remembered as one of the greatest athletes in LSU history
The woman they call “Bugs” just finished out an incredible career at LSU, and it should be celebrated as such. It’s hard not to describe her as the greatest gymnast in LSU history. She’s a 14-time All-American, a national champion on the floor and is tied for the LSU record for most Perfect 10s in school history. Over the last 2 years, she only scored less than a 9.9 on vault twice in 29 passes, including 5 10.0s.
Her value to this program is immeasurable. She oversaw the 4 best seasons in school history, as well as every score of 198 or better LSU has ever achieved. Her leadership will be missed on the floor and her production might be missed even more. That said …
2. LSU gymnastics is in good hands with Myia Hambrick and Sarah Finnegan
Bugs may be moving on, but the core of the LSU gymnastics team isn’t. Myia Hambrick and Sarah Finnegan, the team’s two all-around competitors, will be back for their senior and junior years next year. Expect them to be 2 of the best gymnasts in the nation, with Finnegan coming back to defend her crown as a national champion on bars and Hambrick to expand her 9-time All-American status.
With Gnat out of the picture, LSU needs replacement anchors on vault, beam and floor. Finnegan is a shoo-in to anchor the beam, but expect both her and Hambrick to also be in contention on the floor. It’s a good problem to have if you’re D-D Breaux.
3. Kennedi Edney is the real deal
As a freshman in 2017, Kennedi Edney asserted herself as one of LSU’s most valuable gymnasts, and one of the country’s most precise competitors. Edney won a national championship on the vault with a career-high 9.9875 Friday night and crucial 9.9375 on the team’s record-setting balance beam rotation Saturday night. She’s poised beyond her years.
And there’s a good chance she’ll be elevated to the all-around as a sophomore. She competed in the all-around 4 times in 2017, 3 of which averaging a score of 9.875 or better. And now that Gnat, Zamardi and Ewing are all departing off the floor rotation, Edney is a virtual lock to take over 1 slot.
If she takes the same step forward in 2018 that most sophomores do between their first and second seasons, she’ll be an absolute force next year. Watch out for the fire-breathing dragon.
4. LSU’s promise on bars is immense
The bars were LSU’s worst event this year, which isn’t saying much since the team still averaged the third-best score in the nation. But the team only used 1 senior — Zamardi — in its year-end bars rotation. This means the team is returning an anchor and bona fide star in Lexie Priessman, a national champion in Finnegan, 2 freshmen in Edney and former Olympian Ruby Harrold and as consistent of a worker as they come in Hambrick.
It’s odd to think that a weakness might become a strength just by virtue of getting a year older, but this very well may be the case. It’ll be interesting to see who plugs in as the sixth competitor (Gnat was the seventh choice this year), but if the 5 returning athletes stay strong, it really shouldn’t matter.
5. Second place isn’t bad, so get comfortable
LSU’s window isn’t closing. Not by a long shot. But the 2-time defending national champions over in Norman, Okla. actually might be getting better.
Oklahoma is losing the same amount of vital seniors as LSU, with all-arounder Chayse Capps’ departure being the most notable. But the Sooners are returning a handful of big names as well, with freshman sensation Maggie Nichols set to get one year better, and juniors like AJ Jackson and Stefani Catour set to take over as leaders.
Will Oklahoma regress? Probably not. The Sooners are loaded and have an earned confidence that Alabama football doesn’t even deserve. But LSU isn’t going to miss much of a step either. There’s a fighting chance that these 2 teams going head-to-head next April as well.
And if that’s the case, it’s time to buy in now, LSU gymnastics fans. The season never ends when you’re competing for a title.