Dig Baton Rouge

Geaux together: The LSU gymnastics team’s camaraderie, friendship reasons for season’s success

To LSU coach D-D Breaux, Ashleigh Gnat’s next sleepover date — with a special, bronzed guest of honor — remains to be scheduled.

Both the bed’s dweller, Gnat, and Breaux, are buoyant to say the slumber party will happen soon, and if it does, all of LSU’s gymnasts would get the chance to snuggle up to the National Championship trophy.

As a team, dear friends, karaoke squad, partnering churchgoers and performers, the LSU gymnastics team does everything together, which makes them “unlike any other team” Breaux has coached before, she said.

Breaux reiterated the importance of “togetherness” — the team’s motto — on Monday, five days prior to LSU’s fifth-consecutive NCAA Semifinal appearance at 1 p.m. on Friday in the Fort Worth, Texas Convention Center.

“They love piling up in the bed,” Breaux said. “Ashleigh Gnat said she can’t wait to sleep with the trophy after the National Championship. She said, ‘I’m going to put the trophy in my bed and everybody is going to sleep in my bed.’ They’re just those kind of kids. They’re real basic, real simple.”

Breaux said she discovered her third-ranked gymnastics’ team “togetherness” adage, which she copied from an African proverb with an unknown author, after watching a movie during the offseason.

It then clicked for Breaux and translated to her team with ease.

“It’s great that they can share that with each other,” Breaux said. “They’re truly together in what they want to do and what they want to accomplish.”

“Geaux Together,” in golden and purple bolded letters, is scribbled on the front cover of LSU’s 2016 seasonal poster, and “unity” remains bannered above the entrance of the team’s locker room in its multi-million dollar practice facility.

“I saw it at the end of good movie,” Breaux said. “It said, ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ I thought that would be a great team motto for this team, so we started talking about it and adopted it, together.”

From the beginning, after LSU’s season opening 196.950-196.725 upset win against then-No. 1 Oklahoma on Jan. 9, Breaux said, “this team is legit” while emphasizing the word “team.”

“This is the most unique group of young ladies I’ve ever been around,” Breaux, the Tigers’ 39-season captain, said. “There’s no girling going around. They are a very cohesive unit. They are very mature about their approach in dealing with each other and how they respect their friendships.

“It’s a wonderful thing to watch.”

The Tigers, while having lost three All-American performers in Rheagan Courville, Jessie Jordan and Lloimincia Hall, had to reset their focus and revisit how the team operates after last season’s demoralizing fifth-place finish in the NCAA Semifinals on April 17, 2015.

To junior all-arounder Ashleigh Gnat, what LSU intends to accomplish in Fort Worth this year is simple: stay united.

“We’re very focused on being ourselves and just united as a team,” Gnat said. “The whole team is very excited. We know exactly what we’re in for. We’re ready to go. We’re very well prepared. But these couple days are going to go by quick, and we’re going to be leaving before we know it.”

But Breaux, jokingly, didn’t want to reflect on last season’s grueling end on Monday.

“I personally would like to not go back to last year’s nationals,” she said followed with a chuckle. “That performance, that night, was not indicative of what this team can do. That was then. This is now, and these kids are living in the moment.”

The nationally viewed spell, eventually, spurred the mental rehabilitation for veteran gymnasts, along with welcoming five freshman faces. Associate head coach Jay Clark finds gratification in the “new” team’s growth as a unit.

Even if he hurts feelings along the way, Clark is passionate about the group’s affection for one another, which gives him joy.

“At the risk of offending the other teams that I’ve coached throughout the years, this team is the most enjoyable team to coach because they’re on message,” Clark said. “When they say that they love each other and they’re invested, that’s not just talk for the press. That’s the honest to God truth.”

Perhaps coincidentally, Clark’s statement closed with God, which bears closely to LSU’s continuously developing team chemistry.

Each Sunday, Tiger gymnasts gather to go to the Healing Place Church together.

“It’s huge. We’re trying to be together as often as the rules permit us,” Breaux said.

Last Sunday, though, was most vivid memory of friendship to Breaux.

“We went and did karaoke last night,” Breaux said on April 11. “We had karaoke, played games and had dinner. The kids were just kids. They were kids and had fun together.”

Between the karaoke and sleepovers, the “kids’ good time,” as Breaux explained it, furnishes the Tigers’ on-floor gymnastics.

The team’s closely-knit bond wasn’t easily established, though, Clark said. The growth and maturation process extended well into the season and is continuously worked on to fuse camaraderie, confidence and, eventually, higher scores on the mat.

While clutching to the motto throughout the regular season, LSU garnered a 23-4 record and six wins against Southeastern Conference competition — including wins against the then-No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 ranked teams, nationally.

With one of the probable final two competitions beginning on Friday, Clark believes only LSU can cripple LSU.

“If we can compete free of mind, we should be fine,” Clark said. “If we’re not confident, then who is?”

Senior all-arounder Randii Wyrick, confidently, agrees.

“It’s just awesome being able to be surrounded by such a great team who loves and cares about each other and is very genuine, driven and wanting of the same things,” she said. “It’s great to be able to have that kind of support.”

The Tigers depart for Fort Worth on Wednesday. They will stay at the same hotel, will eat the same meals and go through the same process as last season, Breaux said. But she hopes to end the competition, and season, with a different look on their faces.

“I want this group to go to Fort Worth, Texas, and have a ball,” Breaux said. “I want them to be smiling in the beginning and smiling at the end, if that’s happening, we’re successful.”

Photo courtesy of LSU Sports Information.

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