SEC Gymnastics Stock Watch: LSU and Florida’s photo finish

SEC Gymnastics Stock Watch: LSU and Florida's photo finish
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Once you feel like you’ve got everything figured out about the 2024 college gymnastics season, this sport finds a way to throw you another curveball. Through the first seven weeks, we’ve seen record after record broken, which continued in Week 8.

Here’s who to look out for and who to count out as we enter the home stretch of the 2024 campaign:

Rising

Florida’s Leanne Wong walks it off

The drama in Gainesville was eminent on Friday night. The No. 2 LSU Tigers traveled to take on their hated rivals, the No. 5 Florida Gators. LSU’s Aleah Finnegan scored her second perfect 10 on floor in two weeks, with Haleigh Bryant and Kiya Johnson finishing the third rotation with 9.950s.

“That may be the best floor rotation I’ve ever witnessed by any team in my years of coaching,” Tigers head coach Jay Clark said. “It was stellar.”

While what LSU accomplished was indeed stellar, it was something that they could only celebrate for a short time.

LSU entered the final rotation, leading Florida 148.600-148.450, but that lead quickly evaporated.

The Tigers took to the balance beam, hoping their struggles from the past were finally behind them after setting their highest score on the event only a week before against Auburn.

Instead, Sierra Ballard and Johnson’s pair of 9.825s hurt LSU’s chances to close the road win. In this case, the Tigers’ Achilles heel had them limp to the finish line again. It was up to the Gators to decide who would pull this one out.

Florida’s Payton Richards had to be carried off the floor after sustaining an injury on her opening tumble. Junior Leanne Wong stepped up to the plate to relieve Richards, needing a 9.825 to seal the comeback victory for her Gators.

Wong did everything to a tee: a high-flying double layout, complex choreography, and the signature Gator chomp that gave her a perfect 10 and Florida the win.

“At that moment, I knew the team needed my score, so I just had to go out there and do my routine the way I had been practicing it,” Wong said.

It’s Wong’s first-ever perfect 10 on the event, as she has now recorded the elusive “Gym Slam,” which requires recording a perfect 10 on every event at least once in her career.

Wong is only the 15th gymnast in NCAA history, the fourth Gator, to receive the honor. Wong also recorded the highest all-around score this season (39.875). 

Despite the loss, Clark was still pleased after his group put up their highest road score of the season.

“I think our team did enough to win in there tonight,” Clark said. “It was a great overall performance and without a doubt our best road performance of the year from top to bottom.”

Florida is now guaranteed a part of the SEC regular-season title for their sixth consecutive year and remains No. 5 in the national rankings. After a performance like the one we saw on Friday, the Gators have entered the national title conversations.

Oklahoma sets another record

On Friday, the No. 1 Oklahoma Sooners set a record for the highest score in program history (198.675). The new high score tops the one that LSU (198.475) set a couple of weeks ago against Arkansas as the new highest team score this season.

Oklahoma’s record-breaking performance is the fourth-highest score in NCAA history, as it’s the fifth time the Sooners have cracked the 198-point benchmark this season.

Oklahoma’s Ragan Smith has lived up to her “Beam Queen” moniker over the past few weeks. After notching her first perfect 10 of the 2024 campaign just last week, Smith did it again on Friday night during the team’s 198.675-195.550 home victory over unranked West Virginia.

With her seventh perfect 10 on the balance beam in her collegiate career, Smith ties Maggie Nichols, who was in attendance inside the Lloyd Noble Center, for the most in school history on the event.

The No. 1 team in the country continues to chug along like a well-oiled machine as we begin to hit the 2024 season’s home stretch.

Auburn tops Missouri in the battle of the Tigers

No. 13 Missouri traveled to Neville Arena to take on No. 12 Auburn in what was expected to be a very even battle. Even it was, as it took Auburn senior Cassie Stevens’s career-high on the floor (9.950) in her final event to lead her Tigers to a 197.425-197.000 comeback win over Missouri.

“It’s the culmination of five years of nothing but love and support from people in this building,” Stevens said. “To give back in the way that I could was really special. Anyone wants to go out on a high note. I’m happy with my performance and the team’s performance. It was a lot of fun. I had a great time.”

While Auburn’s inconsistency in average score dropped them to No. 14 in the national rankings, right behind Missouri, their resilience on Friday is worth the nod on this week’s stock watch. If Auburn can find themselves a little more consistent, don’t be surprised to see them make a serious run at a title come April.

Falling

Kentucky’s missed opportunity

SEC gymnastics schedule makers made last week’s stock watch due to the obscene disadvantage they had seemingly given No. 16 Arkansas. Two quad meets in Fort Worth, Texas, in three days, followed by another road trip on Friday to play one of the more emerging teams in the country: No. 6 Kentucky.

The Razorbacks didn’t seem to care what hand they were dealt, as they went into Barnhill Arena and beat the Wildcats 197.400-197.150. It’s the program’s highest-ranked win in eight years. 

Arkansas refused to acknowledge the odds, and the odds disappeared.

The Razorbacks jumped four spots to No. 12 in the national rankings, while Kentucky stayed at No. 6.

There was no better time and place to play Arkansas for the Wildcats, and their missed opportunity landed them a place on this week’s stock watch. 

Georgia’s long losing streak

The good news: the No. 18 Georgia Bulldogs posted a new season-high road score on Friday night during their meet against the No. 10 Alabama Crimson Tide.

The bad news: Georgia lost again.

That’s six straight meets without a win for the Bulldogs, with their only win of the 2024 campaign coming on Jan. sixth against the unranked North Carolina State Wolfpack.

The Bulldogs dropped two spots in the national rankings to No. 20, while Alabama moved up into the No. 9 spot.

The reality is starting to set for Georgia: they’re just not good enough to compete on a national level this season. The 2024 standings have been top-heavy all year long, with powerhouses like Oklahoma, LSU, California, Utah, and Florida being what sometimes feels like the only genuine title contenders come tournament time. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, they are not in that conversation.

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About Marc Lemoine 1894 Articles
Marc is an Economist and a well experienced weightlifter who has won many championships. He intends to build a bright career in the media industry as well. He is a sports freak who loves to cover the latest news on sports, finance and economy.

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