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LSU Gymnastics a big deal in Baton Rouge

On Jan. 5, 2018, more than 10,000 LSU fans piled into the Pete Maravich Assembly Center for a weekend athletic event between heated SEC rivals.

Believe it or not, there wasn’t a jump shot, rebound, steal or slam dunk attempted the entire night on the PMAC’s floor. But there were a lot of flips, vaults and athletes walking on balance beams.

The LSU Gymnastics team has been the talk of Baton Rouge for several years—a program that’s grown to become one of the most popular and most successful on campus over the past several years.

On opening night of the 2018 season, LSU drew 10,755 fans to the PMAC for a victory against Arkansas—a number that’s become normal for a program which routinely packs its building for each home meet.

For the season, the Tigers have sold more than 5,000 season tickets and LSU finished in the Top 3 nationally in attendance last season, which has made the sport among the most profitable in the entire LSU athletic department.

“The passion our fans have for this team is on display at every meet and every time we are out in the community,” LSU gymnastics coach D-D Breaux said. “We are excited for our fan base. They keep us working hard and motivated for the challenges that come with the season.”

LSU gymnastics wasn’t always this popular among the masses.

The program has existed since the late 1970s, but spent a lot of its existence as a smaller-tier, lesser-known part of the LSU athletic department, despite always being successful in SEC competition.

But in recent years, the LSU fan base started paying close attention.

The Tigers have drawn more than 10,000 fans nine times in program history, including a record-setting 13,296 crowd against rival Alabama on March 4, 2016.

All nine of those attendance numbers have come since 2015 and all but one of LSU’s top 20 home crowds have come since 2010.

 

The factors for the resurgence are three-fold. First is stability.

Breaux has been LSU’s coach since 1978 when the program was in its infancy.

She’s now been with the team 40 seasons– easily the longest-standing LSU coach.

In her time with LSU, Breaux has won more than 475 meets (a 65 percent win percentage) and the Tigers have consistently been in the upper echelon of the SEC, including last year when LSU scored 198.075 and won the SEC Championship.

Breaux is an LSU lifer–through and through.

In addition to being the gymnastics coach, Breaux is a regular at other athletic events.

“LSU is in my blood,” Breaux said. “It’s been such a big part of my life. We all know this is a special place, but for me, it’s a place that’s done so much for both me and my family.”

The second is investment.

When LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva took over in Baton Rouge, the gymnastics team was successful, but significantly behind the times, practicing in a worn down, outdated gym.

But in 2016, that changed when the Tigers opened the Gymnastics Training Facility—a new, state-of-the-art facility which was constructed exclusively through the use of private donations.

The project was on Breaux’s wish list for a long time, and it was spearheaded by Tiger Athletic Foundation and other boosters.

In addition to the facility, LSU has also invested time and effort in the program, heavily promoting meets on social media, while also doing other community events to bring attention to the team.

“This facility is all about excellence and this gymnastics program represents excellence,” Alleva said at the ribbon cutting back in 2016.

“This facility is a crown jewel,” Breaux added, looking back. “It’s a monument to the great student-athletes that have been here before. It’s a premier facility and it stands tall for those great athletes that we open the doors to now and in the future.”

Investment is nice, but winning helps, too, and that’s the third thing that’s helped spark the program’s renaissance.

LSU gymnastics has been incredible in recent years—one of the golden jewels in the country. Since 2013, the Tigers have made the Super Six Meet four times.

In each of the past two seasons, the Tigers were close to the National Championship, finishing as the National Runner-Up.

This year, LSU is building on that success and is currently among the top teams in the country. LSU opened the season with 197.150 points against Arkansas. They followed that up at Florida the next week with 197.250 points, which ascended the Tigers to No. 1 in the Top 25 polls.

LSU is led by experienced, world-class gymnasts like Sarah Finnegan, Myia Hambrick and Kennedi Edney—each who have competed in all-around competition so far this season.

The Tigers are awfully good at all four events, ranking near the best in the country at each, which enables the No. 1 ranking.

Breaux said the beauty of this year’s team is that it mixes youth with experience.

Hambrick is a senior and Finnegan is a junior. Each has been through the battles and knows what it takes to compete at high-stakes NCAA meets throughout the season.

But the team also pools contributions from a seven-member freshman class, which are paving the path for a bright future.

“We like our team,” Breaux said. “We give it everything we have. We don’t go backward. We fight and I think if it all comes together, we have a chance to be in the mix when we get to the final stages of the season.

LSU will be home for two meets in February—first on Feb. 2 against Kentucky and then again on Feb. 18 against Texas Woman’s College.

The Kentucky matchup is the annual Mardi Gras Meet and against Texas Woman’s College, it’s Mike’s Kids Club Day at the PMAC.

Photos by Sean Gasser

Casey Gisclair

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