The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

2023 LSU Tigers

Previewing the 2023 LSU gymnastics team

LSU TIGERS

Super Seniors

Cammy Hall


  • Will miss 2023 season

  • Transfer from Utah

  • NQS of 9.880 on VT in 2022

Seniors

Kiya Johnson

VT
UB
BB
FX

  • #1 returning score on BB (9.925)

  • #2 returning score on VT (9.915)

  • #3 returning score on UB (9.875)

  • Competed 5 FXs in 2022, avg 9.930

Lexi Nibbs

  • Did not compete in 2022 or 2021

  • Competed 4 VTs in 2020

Maddie Rau

  • Did not compete in 2022 or 2021

  • NQS of 9.785 on VT in 2020

Kai Rivers

BB

  • Competed 5 UBs (avg 9.845), 5 BBs (avg 9.845), 5 VTs (avg 9.840) in 2022

Kamryn Ryan

UB

  • Did not compete in 2022

  • Competed 1 VT in 2021 for 9.325

Alyona Shchennikova

VT
UB
BB
FX

  • #2 returning score on UB (9.910)

  • #4 returning score on FX (9.860)

  • Competed 5 VTs (avg 9.785), 3 BBs (9.800) in 2022

Juniors

Elena Arenas

VT
UB
BB
FX

  • #4 returning score on VT (9.860)

  • #5 returning score on UB (9.775)

  • Competed 2 BBs (avg 9.813), 2 FX (avg 9.488) in 2022

Sierra Ballard

BB
FX

  • Competed 2 FXs in 2022, avg 9.763

Chase Brock

VT
UB
FX

  • Did not compete in 2022

  • NQS of 9.819 on VT, UB in 2021

Haleigh Bryant

VT
UB
BB
FX

  • #1 returning score on VT (9.970), UB (9.930)

  • #2 returning score on BB (9.910)

  • #3 returning score on FX (9.875)

Olivia Dunne

UB
FX

  • #4 returning score on UB (9.865)

  • Competed 6 FXs in 2022, avg 9.854

Sophomores

Aleah Finnegan

VT
UB
BB
FX

  • #2 returning score on FX (9.885)

  • #3 returning score on BB (9.900)

  • Competed 1 UB in 2022 for 9.850

Alexis Jeffrey

VT
UB

  • Did not compete in first season

KJ Johnson

VT
BB
FX

  • #1 returning score on FX (9.905)

  • #3 returning score on VT (9.895)

Tori Tatum

UB

  • Did not compete in first season

  • 2nd AA, 2019 L10 Nationals

First Years

Annie Beard

BB
FX

  • Texas Dreams

  • 2nd AA, 2021 Region 3s

Ashley Cowan

UB
FX

  • Bull City

  • 1st UB, 2022 L10 Nationals

Bryce Wilson

VT
BB
FX

  • Pearland

  • 2nd VT, 4th FX, 2022 L10 Nationals

Ranking History
2022 – 18th
2021 – 6th
2020 – 6th
2019 – 2nd
2018 – 4th
2017 – 2nd
2016 – 2nd
2015 – 10th
2014 – 3rd
2013 – 5th
2012 – 9th

Where 2022 Finished…

So it didn’t turn out…awesome. A favorite to advance to nationals at least, LSU had its 2022 season prematurely cut short in the regional semifinal when a counting beam fall and some compounding bars problems (and a limited Haleigh Bryant) saw the Tigers lose to both Missouri and Iowa and get eliminated before the round of 16, ending with one of the team’s weakest-ever results in 18th place.

While that actual 18th place will be filed under “just one of those things,” the more pressing issue for LSU is that the team was sort of 5th-7th in the hierarchy all season long, which again mimicked the 6th-place finish from 2021. It’s not bad, but it’s also not exactly the goal a program like LSU will have for itself, especially after all those seasons of 2nd place and expecting a championship. The question for 2023 isn’t whether LSU will be better than 18th. It will be. The question is whether LSU can be better than 6th, which has been the constant status so far in the Jay Clark era (extending right to this year’s preseason coaches poll).

Gains and Losses

LOSTGAINED
Sarah Edwards – VT, FXCammy Hall
Christina Desiderio – BB, FXAnnie Beard
Sami Durante – UB (VT, BB)Ashley Cowan
Bridget Dean – BBBryce Wilson
Reagan Campbell – (BB, FX)
Rebecca D’Antonio

The New Ones

LSU has three first-year newcomers, led by Bryce Wilson who has been a staple of Nastia Cups and L10 Nationals for years now. Wilson’s best event has always been vault, which earned her three 10.0s in the 2022 season, but floor is pretty much right up there and also snatched a top-5 finish at nationals this year. While she did not feature in the main six on either event at LSU’s Gym 101 (perhaps slightly concerning), she performed in exhibition positions and her presence in those lineups will be at least a long-term goal if not a short-term goal since Wilson is known as one of the top L10 vault-floor prospects in this year’s class. Beam also should be a legitimate lineup option, and while she did not perform on bars at the 101, it was always a good score for her in L10. We should see by far the most of Wilson among the new LSU gymnasts.   

Ashley Cowan is predominantly a bars gymnast, known for her release amplitude, who won her age group on bars at nationals this year. LSU has at least one spot in that bars lineup that definitely needs filling, and Cowan should be in the race with a couple other gymnasts there. Her next-best event possibility would be floor, where she is a good twister with a front 2/1 in her pocket.

Rounding out the class is Annie Beard, the former Texas Dreams junior elite who has been around the L10 circuit for a few years now post-elite, regularly placing well on vault, beam, and floor. LSU is in need of some new beam routines this year to restock from that graduated class, so if she’s healthy, Beard would pretty much be at the top of the list of possible new beamers.

LSU also welcomed Utah transfer Cammy Hall to the team for her fifth year in 2023. Hall would have ideally provided a lineup Y1.5 on vault, but she will miss the season with injury.

Event by Event

VAULT

2022 Event Ranking: 3

Lineup locks: Haleigh Bryant, Kiya Johnson, KJ Johnson, Aleah Finnegan, Alyona Shchennikova
Lineup options: Bryce Wilson, Elena Arenas, Chase Brock, Alexis Jeffrey

LSU’s hopes to upgrade the vault lineup took a bit of a hit this preseason with Cammy Hall being ruled out. She would have seemed a natural replacement for the lost Y1.5 from Sarah Edwards, but it turns out that 10.0-start replacement is instead going to come from Aleah Finnegan, who showed a very nice Omelianchik at Gym 101 that should now be a lock for the lineup. LSU will also want to develop a lineup routine from Bryce Wilso, especially considering the DTY she wowed with in L10, as that would now seem the best path to upgrading the vault scores. But at least keeping pace with last year’s vaulting seems likely. 

As for the returners, Haleigh Bryant brings her handspring pike 1/2 back, and Kiya Johnson brings her DTY back, so those will be huge scores again. We can assume that Shchennikova’s Y1.5 will be vital again this year, and KJ Johnson’s Yfull was one of the team’s best vault scores last season and should be the same this time. Those four, along with Finnegan and Wilson, probably make up the ideal vault lineup, though Elena Arenas’s full is very clean and sometimes stuck, so any other 10.0 starts or fulls are going to have to be quite reliable to knock her out of the lineup. 

BARS

2022 Event Ranking: 10

Lineup locks: Alyona Shchennikova, Kiya Johnson, Haleigh Bryant, Olivia Dunne
Lineup options: Aleah Finnegan, Alexis Jeffrey, Elena Arenas, Ashley Cowan, Tori Tatum, Chase Brock, Kamryn Ryan

Bars was LSU’s lowest-ranked event in 2022 and has now lost Sami Durante, so there’s some work to do to get back up to conference-winning level on this event. Still, most of last year’s lineup members look like they remain the best available options. Haleigh Bryant came through as a bars star last season for 9.9s almost every week and will be a big deal again this year. Meanwhile, Kiya Johnson will show up with the crispest, most reliable routine on the team in the leadoff spot, probably for 9.825s again, and we’ll spend a lot of time talking about Shchennikova’s double pikeout every time she goes 9.925. Sunrise, sunset, these things all seem like givens. 

Olivia Dunne has been dealing with labrum injuries but looked pretty close to being ready to go on bars at the Gym 101, just doing her dismount separately, so we can probably feel comfortable putting her back into this lineup, where her execution will certainly earn her a spot again as long as she’s healthy.

The best upgrade (slash Durante replacement) option for this lineup will come from Aleah Finnegan, who did one bars routine for 9.850 in 2022 but will probably need to do bars every week in 2023. The piked Deltchev looks great, so as long as she has a consistent dismount, she’d be an obvious choice for the lineup and a contender for one of the best scores. 

The sixth spot looks like kind of a free-for-all right now with a lot of 9.750 gymnastics bumping around, and someone will need to turn into a reliable 9.850+ if LSU is to avoid dropping ground on bars this year. I thought Alexis Jeffrey looked like the best choice at the Gym 101, but they’ll also have Elena Arenas, who ended up in the final lineup last year, and newcomer Ashley Cowan. The mysterious Tori Tatum, a former elite and L10 standout, did also show a bars routine after not competing in 2022.

BEAM

2022 Event Ranking: 5

Lineup locks: Kiya Johnson, Haleigh Bryant, Aleah Finnegan, Kai Rivers
Lineup options: Bryce Wilson, Alyona Shchennikova, Annie Beard, Elena Arenas, KJ Johnson, Sierra Ballard, Olivia Dunne

With the losses of Desiderio, Dean, Campbell, and Durante, LSU’s supply of beam routines took a hit and the depth chart here looks the most different from 2022. Finding out the identities of last couple members of this lineup could be a process.

In the lock department, we have the top three returning scores from last year’s team: Kiya Johnson, Haleigh Bryant, and Aleah Finnegan. They’re the three best beamers on this roster and will be called upon for weekly 9.9s to make sure this event score stays competitive. Because of injury, Kai Rivers is likely to be limited to beam this season, but expect to see her in this lineup because she is the best proven entity among the remaining beamers on the roster with three 9.9s over her eight career beam routines, all hit. Rivers is the most important figure in Operation Restock Beam.

As for the remaining spots in the lineup, we may have another free-for-all. If she’s available, you want Annie Beard in there. Elena Arenas performed two beam routines last season, both for 9.8s, and it looks like Bryce Wilson is going to provide a nominee. Shchennikova is not always the most sure thing on beam (and wouldn’t have received credit for an acro series at the 101), but she has competed a number of times before, and typically for countable scores. LSU also showed off beam routines from a couple unexpected characters in leg-event specialists KJ Johnson and Sierra Ballard, who I would say exceeded expectations in their beam routines but probably don’t have the leaps for huge scores.

As these bars and beam lineups go, so will LSU in 2023. Finding those new athletes to fill the fifth and sixth spots with 9.875s instead of 9.775s will be essential if this is to be a top-4 season.

FLOOR

2022 Event Ranking: 8

Lineup locks: Kiya Johnson, Haleigh Bryant, KJ Johnson, Alyona Shchennikova, Aleah Finnegan
Lineup options: Sierra Ballard, Olivia Dunne, Elena Arenas, Bryce Wilson, Chase Brock

Floor should be among the more predictable (and stronger) events for LSU in 2023, as long as everyone stays healthy enough to compete regularly. The team returns six athletes who all received multiple 9.9s on floor last year in Kiya Johnson, Haleigh Bryant, KJ Johnson, Alyona Shchennikova, Aleah Finnegan, and Olivia Dunne, and I’d contend it’s the most impressive apparatus for Johnson, Johnson, and Shchennikova (and only isn’t for Bryant because her vault is…her vault). You’d be quite happy with those six as floor lineup, and it’s probably the ideal choice for LSU. What curtailed LSU’s floor ranking journey last season was that there always seemed to be someone (or someones) out that week, whether it was Kiya Johnson at the beginning of the season, or Bryant at the end, or Shchennikova for a while in there. The best-case lineup wasn’t all together very often and will need to be together more in 2023.

In terms of other options for the inevitable times when the best-case lineup isn’t together, Sierra Ballard and Elena Arenas both competed last season for 9.7s and will probably be called upon again this season. Ballard’s DLO always does make for a theoretically compelling option, and she was the one who made it into the main six in place of Dunne at the 101, where Bryce Wilson and Chase Brock also showed routines.

%d bloggers like this: