LSU gymnastics coach Jay Clark found the ability to laugh at his team’s “bar-tastrophe” that marked the Tigers’ disappointing performance in Saturday’s Southeastern Conference championships.
That may be partly because LSU’s performance didn’t change their seeding much for next week’s NCAA Regional Round. The Tigers likely would have been a No. 2 regional seed, and that’s where they still are, heading to Raleigh, North Carolina as the No. 6 national seed overall.
The difference this time is, as Clark said, the Tigers find themselves in ‘hit and go’ mode in the NCAA’s new bracketed regional format that requires a team to go not once but twice to pass. at national championships.
“From now on, we have to make sure we put our best foot forward, our best alignment on the floor,” Clark said Tuesday after he and his team watched the NCAA draft show in the lobby of their training center. “There is no tomorrow.”
How regional works
The region begins March 30 with a double play-in between North Carolina and Towson at NC State’s Reynolds Coliseum. The winner advances to a four-team pool that includes the No. 3 national seed and defending NCAA champion Michigan, No. 14 UCLA and Maryland. LSU’s support includes the No. 11 national seed from Missouri, Iowa and host state North Carolina.
The top two teams from each four-team bracket will include, after a bye day, a four-team regional final on April 2, which will be televised on one of the ESPN networks. The top two teams from this final will join six teams from three other regionals at the NCAA Championships April 14-16 in Fort Worth, Texas.
“I think it’s great for the sport,” Clark said of the new format. “I called it a meat grinder because it is. In the past, when we had six regional sites, the chalk usually held together. Since we moved to the tighter regional format, every year there has been a 1 or 2 seed eliminated regionally.
“It creates a different level of interest. There’s a lot more chance of upsets and more Cinderella stories like you see in other sports.
LSU and UCLA were embroiled in controversy earlier this season when LSU accepted the transfer of former Bruins gymnast Alexis Jeffrey. She was accused by some of her former teammates of using racial slurs in the practice gym while singing song lyrics. LSU officials investigated the situation and approved his transfer as a walk. Jeffrey, who did not compete for LSU this season, will make the trip, Clark said.
Clark said he didn’t believe the NCAA intentionally placed LSU and UCLA in the same region, but that was where the two teams fell on the “S-curve” based on their national rankings.
“I think it’s the toughest region there is, but I’m confident in the team’s ability to navigate it and move forward,” Clark said.
Bryant gets an MRI
LSU finished fifth at the SEC meet with a season-best 196.725, tied for its worst showing at this championship. The event for LSU was marked by falls from its top two gymnasts: Kiya Johnson in the lead on the uneven bars and Haleigh Bryant on the vault.
“We were a little too excited,” Clark said. “When the first routine breaks down, it kind of shook them up. I thought on beam they bounced back quickly (LSU had a 49.550, their best event in the meet), but once they started to realize where we were in the meet, they started pressing. This is true in all sports. When you try to do something superhuman, you end up doing the exact opposite.
Johnson’s 9.20 along with a fall from Sami Durante (9.25) and a wobbly landing from Elena Arenas (9.625) contributed to LSU’s 48.575 on bars, its only event score below 49,000 this season.
LSU’s problems looked even worse when Bryant appeared to hurt his elbow on the jump. Clark said she had an MRI on Monday, but the results were encouraging, saying it was more of a forearm sprain.
“Nothing too serious,” he said. “We expect her to be back (in training) on Thursday. I think we may have dodged a bullet on that one.
NCAA Raleigh Regional (NC State, host)
March 30-31 and April 2
No. 3 Michigan
LSU No. 6
No. 11 Missouri
No. 14 UCLA