Cannamela, Julianna – Freshman
Ewing, Sydney – Junior – VT, BB, FX
Finnegan, Sarah – Freshman
Gauthier, Michelle – Senior – backup BB, FX
Gnat, Ashleigh – Junior – VT, UB, BB, FX
Hambrick, Myia – Sophomore – VT, UB, BB, FX
Kelley, McKenna – Freshman
Li, Lauren – Sophomore – backup VT, UB, FX
Macadaeg, Erin – Sophomore – VT, BB
Moran, Kylie – Sophomore – N/A
Priessman, Lexie Lee – Freshman
Savona, Jessica – Senior – VT, UB, BB, FX
Szafranski, Kaitlyn – Freshman
Wyrick, Randii – Senior – UB (backup VT, FX)
Zamardi, Shae – Junior – UB (backup FX)
2015 – 10th
2014 – 3rd
2013 – 5th
2012 – 9th
2011 – 20th
2010 – 9th
LSU enters 2016 wallowing in the aftermath of an extremely disappointing collapse at nationals last year (THE FRESHMAN LOST HER MIND) and, much more significantly, the departure of the class that lifted this program back into the big time. So, some trepidation about this season is understandable. It seemed that LSU would be relying on a super-talented, but often MIA and legs-made-of-dust, freshman class to have a shot at repeating the top-three quality of the last couple years. Very dangerous territory. Thankfully, the complete and solid-for-December lineups LSU put up in the preseason showcase (without Priessman and Kelley) were very reassuring as to the status and competitive ability of the returning core of this team. LSU is a Super Six team even if the big-name freshmen aren’t able to deliver significant numbers, and will challenge for the title if they are.
I’m going with Ashleigh Gnat. Gnat spent the first two years of her LSU career hanging out around the 4th spot on her main events, a prominent contributor on whom the team relied for scores but not necessarily the lineup leader or an absolutely essential score. When she had the occasional bad one, Courville and Jordan (or Hall on floor) were there to pick up the slack and save a great rotation total. Without them, Gnat will be expected to anchor multiple lineups and get 9.9s on vault, beam, and floor every single time, which is a new role and a new level of responsibility. In the absence of Courville, she has to become a Courville to keep LSU on track.
Under ideal health circumstances, LSU’s vault lineup will be Gnat, Priessman, Savona, Ewing, Kelley, and Hambrick. That’s a serious 49.4+ group even without the benefit of Courville’s mile-long vault (the start-value change also mitigates LSU’s vault losses since Courville and Jordan wouldn’t have scored as well this year anyway). Gnat continues to vault the DTY, which is developing into a US-elite level DTY that would provoke a tropical storm of Amanar rumors were she elite and competing it at Classic. She’ll be the head vaulter for the Tigers, and let’s hope the new values adequately reward her difficulty now instead of giving her a 9.875 every time and placing her on par with average yurchenko fulls.
When Priessman is able (she’s expected to return on at least bars by mid-January), she’s more than capable of producing a 10.0 SV since her Amanar remained only somewhat terrifying all the way through 2012, after which she was completing DTYs quite easily. Complementing those two will be Savona and Ewing, who both made their way into the vault lineup last season with sufficiently powerful 1.5s that will be even more valuable this year. With what should be four 10.0 starts and two other strong fulls, this lineup boasts both the difficulty and the execution to be a top-four vaulting team. At least. For the remaining fulls, I’d go with Kelley for her power and Hambrick for her incredible perfect perfection made of perfect. Her vault is a total joy and one of the few that qualifies as artistic. She can still hit 9.900 with a full this year.
When any of these six aren’t available, both Cannamela and Macadaeg have perfectly acceptable fulls (Macadaeg has nice pop but isn’t as steady on the landing) that should be able to score into the 9.8 range themselves and keep everything on track.
Bars is the worry event. While the Tigers have more than enough 9.800-level gymnasts to put together a workable lineup, they’ve been bleeding bars leaders for the last couple seasons in Morrison and now Courville and Jordan, leaving the team with mostly supporting characters and few stars. Conclusion: Sarah Finnegan. Finnegan has the toes, handstands, and general “she’s Sarah Finnegan” to become one of the strongest bars workers around, especially now that she can get rid of a few of those pesky elite skills that gave Elfi a case of the post-diarrhea moans at 2012 Trials. Finnegan will need to become the new 9.9er. Priessman must also contribute, though her bars execution score in elite was not always so much with the great. Still, paring down to NCAA skills should give her something cleaner that can be a definite mid-lineup routine if not necessarily a starring routine the way Finnegan’s should be. On twitter, Yosemite Clark took a short break from being the whole problem to post a video of her routine, which was fine if a little whippy in the DLO and a little leg-breaky in the pak.
These freshmen must boost the competitiveness of this group since LSU doesn’t return very many natural bars workers. There is Zamardi, who developed into a good 9.850-9.900 last year after being MIA her freshman year. Zamardi’s double arabian dismount still scares the bejesus out of me, but she has proven a consistently countable score. Wyrick will also return to the lineup. Hers is not a memorable routine, but she doesn’t give away much in form and can go 9.900 at times too. With those four, LSU can be on track for 49.300, which is perfectly fine. Beyond them, however, the team will be relying on people who might prefer if the bars would just go crawl into a corner and die, like Savona and Gnat. Both contributed for 9.800s last year but have enough leg and angle issues to keep their scores below what a championship team should be getting. Hambrick is another choice (but she struggles with consistency), Kelley has a routine although it’s also not her event, and at some point Cannamela should develop into either a solid 1st/2nd routine or a safely usable reserve. Enough people exist to stay above water, but the question is how often this lineup will get stuck in the 9.825-9.850s/49.200s, especially early in the season if Finnegan and Priessman aren’t all that right away.
The loss of Courville and, especially, Jordan introduces a lot more terror and drama into the beam lineup this year. How many times did Jessie Jordan save everything in the 6th spot? LSU’s biggest mission on beam this year is finding a new queen bee who can hit even when everyone else is terrible. Theoretically the team still earns enough lovely points to make this event a huge asset, but can they survive the rotation or will they fall into a pit of lava a la nationals?
This is why Gnat must develop into a rock as an upperclassman. She has a tendency to get a little 9.7y in important moments and was one of the falls at nationals, and that has to go. She must be the solid lineup savior in case any member of the triumvirate of perfect finds that she’s just feeling too beautiful to stay on the beam that day. Obviously, by triumvirate of perfection, I mean Finnegan, Macadaeg, and Hambrick. The style, the elegance, the Kathy Johnson moans! Hambrick and Macadaeg both had hitting problems last year, but they’re lovely, give away almost no built-in deductions, and must return to the lineup. Finnegan is still doing the triple wolf, because she just wants to hurt me, but I suppose I can allow it since hers is not horrible looking. Regardless, she’ll be the same woodland beam heiress she always has been and will get a 20 every week.
I’d definitely take Priessman for another spot and then conduct an American Gladiator-style joust between Ewing and Kelley for the remaining place. Those are seven serious options and huge potential scores. When Lexie Priessman is the 5th person I mention on an event, you know it’s good. If they can actually figure out hitting, they can score with any team and should be right up there with Oklahoma and UCLA.
Also a couple notes from the preseason showcase: 1) Jessica Savona looked good. Where did that beam routine come from? Even the splits were solid. She might cause an upset by knocking out Ewing or Kelley or an inconsistent member of the triumvirate. 2) Every switch side was super crooked. Fix, please.
It’s LSU and floor, so even though Hall, Courville, and Jordan are no more, don’t expect the team to fall off in any significant way in 2016. Sure, there may not be anyone getting Hall 10s, but in time, this roster should develop enough 9.900-9.950 options to remain among the strongest floors in the country. The freshmen can be just as good as the departing routines. For both Priessman and Kelley, floor is the obvious specialty. It was Priessman’s floor tumbling and secure landing of difficult acro that had her on many people’s Olympic forecast during her larval stage, and Kelley is just a concentrated rubber ball of DLO/Mary Lou energy. That extreme-facial-reactions LSU judge is going to fall into the sky about McKenna Kelley. When healthy (and Kelley is supposed to be back to full strength for the beginning of the season), these two late lineup powerhouses should rack up the 9.9s.
The other members of the 9.9 brigade will be Gnat and Savona. Early in Gnat’s career she struggled with tumbling pass consistency, but last year she was a weekly 9.9 (ending the season on a streak of nine consecutive floor scores of 9.900 or greater, which is pretty impressive). As for Savona, the majority of her floor routines are worthy of 9.900, though last season she was getting stuck with some 9.850s in the first spot. Promoted back out of that spot this year, she should score pretty close to Gnat. These four will keep LSU in the 49.4s. Ewing competed consistently last season, so count on her to return with her front 2/1 and acceptable twisting form, along with perhaps Hambrick or Wyrick. Both of them competed in the preview and are opening with E passes this season, making it pretty likely that LSU will have six E-pass floor routines this season. As for Sarah Finnegan, she got the requisite “she’s the artistic one” Jessie Jordan choreography this year, though there are sufficient floor options that the team will have the luxury of saving Finnegan for bars and beam depending on how bubble-wrapped she needs to be.