2021 – 6th
2020 – 6th
2019 – 2nd
2018 – 4th
2017 – 2nd
2016 – 2nd
2015 – 10th
2014 – 3rd
2013 – 5th
2012 – 9th
2021 IN REVIEW
The 2021 campaign will certainly rank as a quality season for LSU—it’s been a long time since LSU had a bad season—and the 6th-place finish does underrate to a certain extent the talent level of a team that was solidly top-4 all year. But at the same time, LSU is established as a championship-contending program, so a 2021 season in which the team lost regular-season meets to Florida, Alabama, and Kentucky, finished 2nd at the SEC Championship to Alabama, and didn’t reach the final day again (even if by just .0375) will not sit well. It doesn’t count as a banner result for a team like LSU.
Olivia Gunter and Caitlin Smith did not compete in lineups in 2021.
THE NEW ONES
LSU has a fairly small incoming class of just three (compared to a number of teams with come-one-come-all approaches their new athletes this year), but there’s no dead weight in this group. We should see all three provide valuable routines and challenge for multiple lineups.
Aleah Finnegan brings the name brand, and while having to contend with Sarah expectations will be patently and inevitably unfair, don’t expect this to be a “This is our daughter Dottie, and this is our other daughter, Dottie’s sister” situation. Aleah Finnegan should provide an option on all four events, featuring a must-have upgrade to the beam lineup, a high-class floor routine, and a Deltchev on bars that would be a real travesty to hide away in a backup position.
Tori Tatum spend a good long while in elite herself and has been looming as one of the top NCAA prospects for years. We haven’t, however, seen a lot of Tatum in the last couple seasons, especially on vault and floor (I count exactly one floor score on her record since COVID times), and she did not appear at LSU’s Gym 101 on December 3rd. So, there will be some question marks as to what she’ll add to the team until we actually see her. Ideally, Tatum is bringing a Y1.5 to the vault lineup, an easy full-in to the floor lineup, and tons of release potential as an option on bars.
KJ Johnson doesn’t have the instant name recognition of the other two, but expect her to become a thing on floor. She has the well-completed full-in and satisfying leaps to make for a standout routine. Her Yfull on vault should also present a possibility depending on the needs of the team.
Score-wise, expect LSU to improve by bits and pieces on each event compared to 2021. There’s no lineup-busting reinvention happening, and most of these events should look pretty recognizable from last spring, but given that the team has lost zero routines while bringing in three new contributors, it should be harder to make lineups in 2022, which typically equals better scores.
The challenge for LSU is that the team is not alone in this outlook. Pretty much all of the top schools are bringing in more routines than they are losing this season and gaining in overall scoring potential. The story for every contender will be, you have to get better just to stay the same. Anticipate another season in which LSU is banging around the top 4—and in which qualification to the championship comes down to whether the lineup can stay on beam in the semifinal.
2021 Event Ranking: 2
|Lineup locks: Haleigh Bryant, Kiya Johnson, Sarah Edwards, Alyona Shchennikova|
|Lineup options: Tori Tatum, Elena Arenas, KJ Johnson, Chase Brock, Kai Rivers, Aleah Finnegan, Kamryn Ryan, Sami Durante|
Vault was probably LSU’s best (and definitely most reliable) event last season, and nothing much should change in that regard in 2022. Last year’s top four vaulters all look like locks again this year with their 10.0 starts: Bryant bringing her handspring pike 1/2 that was the best vault in college gymnastics last year, Johnson bringing her DTY that would anchor any other team, and Edwards and Shchennikova bringing their Y1.5s that should garner a fair share of 9.9s again.
Ideally, LSU will look to supplement that four with a Y1.5 from Tori Tatum and then probably Elena Arenas’s Yfull that outscored most Y1.5s last season, but there are plenty of other Yfulls on this team that can fill out additional spots as needed. KJ Johnson brings a strong one, Chase Brock competed plenty of times last season, and Kai Rivers should be back with her Yfull that scored 9.850ish in the leadoff position most weeks in 2020. Things looks rosy on vault.
2021 Event Ranking: 6
|Lineup locks: Sami Durante, Alyona Shchennikova, Kiya Johnson, Haleigh Bryant|
|Lineup options: Olivia Dunne, Aleah Finnegan, Kai Rivers, Tori Tatum, Elena Arenas, Chase Brock, Kamryn Ryan, Bridget Dean|
Bars served LSU well for most of last season…but was also one of the events that got a little 49.2y and 49.3y at the important moments. That means the team won’t necessarily be as content with maintaining the status quo as they will be on vault, yet I don’t see the lineup changing all that much. Finnegan is the most likely new option, and while she may not be a lock right away as there are a couple body position cleany-uppies from her elite routine that need to happen before she can get 9.9s in college, it’s definitely a worthwhile project. Talent-wise, she’s a top-6 on this team. A now-healthy-again Kai Rivers could also jump back into a lineup where she was a reliable 9.8+ in 2020.
But mostly, I’d imagine LSU will be looking at returner improvements in order to add some more seasoned filling to the bars sandwich between Kiya Johnson and Sami Durante. Except for Durante, pretty much all the bars routines last season were in a position where they could go 9.825 depending on the day, the dismount, and the judging panel. LSU needs a few more bars routines that you can’t not give a 9.9. Olivia Dunne (who did not appear at the preview) was strong on bars last year and has more to give as a college gymnast, and Haleigh Bryant has the ability to bring bars and beam up (near) the level of her vault and floor as her college career progresses. I anticipate one of LSU’s most important progressions in 2022 will come not from new gymnasts, but rather from Bryant starting to lead on bars and beam as well.
2021 Event Ranking: 7
|Lineup locks: Reagan Campbell, Kiya Johnson, Christina Desiderio, Bridget Dean, Haleigh Bryant|
|Lineup options: Aleah Finnegan, Sami Durante, Kai Rivers, Elena Arenas, Alyona Shchennikova, Olivia Dunne, KJ Johnson|
Ultimately, beam was the least settled, least predictable event for LSU in 2021, and that elimination-meet run of 48.700, 49.525, 49.175 was a real adventure from which no one has recovered. But again, I don’t expect a drastic change to the lineup. Most of the issues last season, whether it was Johnson’s early-year consistency trouble, falls from Bryant and Durante at regionals, or the 9.7s from Campbell and Desiderio at nationals, came from people you’re not going to bump from the lineup. Success on beam for LSU in 2022 should be more about getting those same people hitting at the big moment, rather than replacing them with an updated operating system.
The one exception to Operation Samesies should be Aleah Finnegan, who has everything necessary to carve out a four-year spot for herself in that beam lineup. I’d slot her right into the position that was Shchennikova’s at the end of last season, while keeping the other options constant. That said, Kai Rivers may also come back as a choice, and Elena Arenas—despite not making the final lineup last season after a few tries in January—is angling for a spot in her second year.
2021 Event Ranking: 2
|Lineup locks: Kiya Johnson, Haleigh Bryant, Alyona Shchennikova, Aleah Finnegan, KJ Johnson|
|Lineup options: Tori Tatum, Sarah Edwards, Sierra Ballard, Christina Desiderio, Elena Arenas, Reagan Campbell, Bridget Dean|
Floor, I’m not worried about you. Floor was neck-and-neck with vault as LSU’s strongest event last season, and it’s definitely the best apparatus for the new gymnasts as well. The rich get richer. LSU brings back two of the top floor workers in the country in Kiya Johnson and Haleigh Bryant, and as long as we all agree that those times Bryant fell in the postseason last year weren’t real, there should be no problems there. Shchennikova got enough 9.9s last season to confirm her spot on this year’s floor squad, and expect Aleah Finnegan’s double Arabian and KJ Johnson’s full-in to make excellent cases for themselves as well. Throw in Tori Tatum, and I’d be perfectly happy with that as a floor lineup, though it’s not the extent of the options. Sarah Edwards and Sierra Ballard should be equivalent choices that see at least some routine opportunities, if not all the routine opportunities.
One change may be that LSU has to lean less on this year’s super seniors to do heavy lifting on floor than it has in past seasons, which is probably good news for overall health. I’d imagine Campbell and Dean won’t need to be called upon this year, and Christina Desiderio has always been an excellent floor worker but may also have her legs mummified at any given meet. This year’s squad is deep enough on floor that they shouldn’t have to force it.