2023 NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships: LSU and Kentucky have defied the odds in their climb to nationals

By Karyssa D'Agostino | April 13, 2023
LSU's Aleah Finnegan and Kentucky's Raena Worley at the 2023 NCAA Women's Gymnastics Championships.
LSU's Aleah Finnegan and Kentucky's Raena Worley at the 2023 NCAA Women's Gymnastics Championships. (© Matthew Smith)

FORT WORTH, Texas – LSU and Kentucky are two very different teams, but both team’s journeys to the 2023 NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships was a climb.

After hard fought seasons and scores coming down to the final tally at their respective regional finals (a tie-break in LSU’s case), both teams are making well-deserved appearances in Fort Worth after not making it to nationals in 2022.

Many have said both teams are “peaking” at the right time – an observation that could be made of all the teams at nationals. This means they’re hitting their stride right when it matters. But when you dig a little deeper, it’s not just about climbing to one triumphant peak.

“I don’t really think it’s peaking at the right time; I think we have little peaks along the way, and that’s what it is supposed to be,” LSU junior Sierra Ballard said. “Every single week is a new week and a new opportunity, and we all start from zero and wherever we can go from there, we’ll go.”

There’s always a new week and ever-changing challenges, and the gymnasts possess exceptional determination to make it through the long regular season and postseason.

“I think our motto for the season has really been to keep pushing, keep fighting, whether we’re the underdog or the top-dog,” Kentucky senior Raena Worley said. “I think really just keeping our heads high and working hard for what we earn.”

A common thread can be found between these two teams: they embraced the unknown and focused on the now, prioritizing each challenge as it comes and working hard from start to finish. This, of course, goes back to what Ballard said about little peaks all season long, which was all a part of “The Climb” if you will.

It’s not just a popular Miley Cyrus song; “The Climb” is LSU’s team motto that was born over the summer, long before the start of the season in January.

“Basically, the overall consensus was that this year is going to be a climb,” Ballard explained. “How far [is it] going to take us? We don’t know – we don’t know what the result is going to be. It was more process-oriented than result-oriented, and so we really stuck true to that and [have] taken a hold of that and let it boost us into this season.”

It’s not all about the win column for these teams, but their mentality and work ethic has translated to wins. And, no, these teams aren’t done fighting, even when it seems like the universe is against the Tigers.

LSU already overcame travel challenges on their way to nationals when their plane slid off the runway and into the mud before takeoff (watch the video below for the full story from Clark).

The season might come down to this week, but the fight from the 2023 Tigers and Wildcats will be remembered for years to come.