BATON ROUGE, La. — There is no rest for the committed.
Heading into the final weekend of her illustrious college career, Ashleigh Gnat can’t sleep. One of the most decorated athletes in the history of LSU gymnastics, Gnat is prepared for the NCAA Championships this weekend in St. Louis. She believes her teammates are, too. But that doesn’t mean she isn’t as restless as she was before her first LSU meet 4 years ago.
“I’ve been waking up really early the past couple of mornings just thinking about [the nationals],” Gnat said. “I’m so excited, so fired up. I’m not joking. I’ve woken up at 7 — I’m usually like a 9 girl — waking up at 7 just thinking about it. … I don’t think I’ve ever been this excited.”
The leader of the No. 2-ranked LSU gymnastics team, Gnat is among the nation’s most dominant and consistent competitors. Gnat finished as an All-American in 3 events, as recognized by the National Association of Collegiate Gymnastics Coaches. She ranked No. 1 in the country in vault and No. 1 in the SEC in floor exercise. During the past 2 seasons, Gnat scored 9.90 or higher on 52 of her 54 vault and floor passes, including going 26 for 26 this season.
With her 9 perfect 10s, her 14 first- or second-team All-America honors, her regular-season and postseason SEC titles and 4 NCAA regional titles, there isn’t much Gnat hasn’t accomplished in 4 seasons in Baton Rouge.
Well, there is 1 thing. And that’s the thing no LSU gymnast has pulled off: a team national championship. Heading into the Friday and Saturday meets to decide the 2017 champion, Gnat is as confident in her team as she’s ever been.
“Obviously, we’ve worked all year for this moment, for this weekend,” Gnat said. “It’s very exciting. I think SECs was a confidence booster going into this weekend. We have a lot of experience coming out of this entire year. That makes us more confident as we head into the national championship. I’m anticipating it, I’m fired up and I think that the whole team is feeling the same way.”
Gnat’s right. The whole team feels that way. But it also feels a certain way about Gnat.
The first follower
LSU gymnastics coach D-D Breaux, head of LSU’s program for 40 years, said she wishes every coach had an athlete such as Gnat. And Breaux doesn’t give empty compliments. When she says something like that, she means it.
“She’s special,” Breaux said of Gnat. “The quality of a great leader is you’re finding those first followers. Those first followers are so important. Everybody around her loves her and respects her. … [Gnat is someone who] picks up the flag and [gets] in front of the leader and says, ‘We got this. Let’s go.’ ”
It should come as no surprise that after she graduates next month, Gnat will enroll in grad school at LSU to study kinesiology — the study of the mechanics of body movements. She hopes to coach someday. That’s if her teammates let her graduate.
Just ask sophomore Sarah Finnegan.
“We always joke about how [the seniors] are actually not leaving,” Finnegan said. “We’re like, ‘Oh, so you want to have this for your floor routine next year?’ They’ve been an awesome impact in all of our lives. They’re great leaders, and I really don’t think that this team would be the team that we are without them.”
Gnat laughed off Finnegan’s claim, guaranteeing she will graduate in May. And that’s all the more reason to make this last meet count. That’s what the past 4 years of commitment and preparation were about, after all.
“I am so fired up and just ready to be there already,” Gnat said. “I feel like we’ve been that way since regionals, maybe since SECs. Just ready to get in there and compete and show everybody what we’ve been working for. ”
What’s another sleepless week anyway?