And just like that six SEC gymnastics teams have their first meet of the 2024 season in the books.
Alabama, Auburn, LSU, and Missouri mostly displayed returning talent, whereas Georgia and Kentucky had to rely more heavily on new recruits to fill their lineups. Arkansas and Florida will have their first official meets next weekend on Jan. 12.
Keep reading for an in-depth recap of SEC gymnastics Week 1.
#14 Ohio State vs. #3 LSU
It was a tight competition Friday night, but the Tigers pulled out the win, beating the Buckeyes 196.975-196.775. The Tigers struggled on beam (48.700) and trailed Ohio State heading into the fourth rotation but jumped back into the lead after stunning floor routines from Haleigh Bryant and Amari Drayton both earned 9.925s.
“We went against a very good team tonight, who had nothing to lose walking in here, and we had to fight our way out of a jam, and I’m proud of the way we fought,” said LSU head coach Jay Clark said. “That has become a hallmark of our team.”
One of the Tigers’ standouts, Bryant claimed the all-around with a score of 39.675. The senior’s aversion to backward tumbling on beam and floor doesn’t stop her from dominating on those events, and with her 62nd all-around title, she’s now tied with Ashleigh Gnat and Jennifer Wood at eighth for most career titles in school history.
Also boosting the scores and excitement on Friday was Kiya Johnson. LSU fans were ecstatic to see her back in full health after rupturing her Achilles tendon last season. Johnson claimed the bars title after scoring a 9.925.
The gymnast turning many fans’ heads at this meet was freshman Amari Drayton. Drayton competed on vault and floor in her first competition as a Tiger and scored a 9.925 on both. Drayton’s former elite teammate Simone Biles reposted Drayton’s impressive Yurchenko 1.5 on vault with the caption, “that’s our girl so proud of you amari.”
Overall it was an strong first meet for LSU, but the Tigers will need to work on cleaning up beam and overall consistency before next weekend when they head to Utah to take on No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 2 Utah, and No. 12 UCLA in a near-rematch of last year’s Four on the Floor championship final.
#9 Kentucky @ Mean Girls Super 16
In the second session of the Mean Girls Super 16, Kentucky went against No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 6 Michigan, and No. 11 Michigan State. The Wildcats scored a 196.775 to finish behind Oklahoma, who scored a 197.850. Michigan State was third with a 196.300, and Michigan was fourth with a 195.875.
The Wildcats had a clean first meet and scored 49+ on all events. Returning powerhouse Raena Worley tied for the all-around title with a score of 39.625. Worley set a new career best on bars with an almost perfect routine that scored a 9.975. One of Kentucky’s most consistent vaulters from last season, Makenzie Wilson stuck her landing and earned a 9.950.
Kentucky had four freshmen in their lineups. Five-star recruit Delaynee Rodriguez competed on all events and ended with an all-around score of 39.350. Rodriguez and Worley’s beam scores were much needed as the Wildcats struggled to keep up with Oklahoma’s scores and needed to drop a fall from Arianna Patterson. Freshman Cadence Gormley also came in handy on beam, scoring a 9.8 in her debut routine.
On floor, freshman Creslyn Brose launched her career as a Wildcat scoring the second highest on the team in the event with a 9.825. Cecily Rizo was the last freshman to make her debut, scoring a 9.8 on vault.
The Wildcats travel to No. 11 Auburn next weekend.
NC State vs. #16 Georgia
Georgia opened the season with a win on Saturday against NC State, 196.200-194.225. Despite the win, it was not an easy day for the Bulldogs.
Graduate student and all-arounder Haley de Jong was injured before the meet on Friday during the warm-up period. There has been no confirmation on what the injury is, but she was seen in a knee brace and on crutches on the sidelines during the meet. Head coach Courtney Kupets Carter said that since de Jong typically competes on every event, the team had to rally together and throw some athletes in the lineup that didn’t quite have the experience or repetition she would have liked before putting them out to compete.
Georgia took another hit during the four minute warm-up time on vault. Freshman Kelsey Lee was warming up when she hit the vault table at a wrong angle and was seen walking off the floor holding her wrist. This injury happened right before the meet started, so the Bulldogs only competed with five athletes on vault.
Regardless of these last minute changes and injuries, the Bulldogs put up some very polished routines. Georgia was led by freshman Ady Wahl, who claimed the all-around title with a 39.175 in her first ever collegiate meet. Freshman Jaydah Battle held her own as she put up a solid vault (9.8) and beam routine (9.85), and freshman Anya Turner posted Georgia’s highest beam score with a 9.875. On bars, freshman Lily Smith had the fans screaming 10 as she had a near-perfect routine, scoring a 9.975.
The main takeaway from this meet is that Georgia sure does seem to have the No. 1 recruiting class. If the Bulldogs can hold on to these newcomers and get gymnasts like de Jong, Vanessa Deniz, and Naya Howard healthy, then they could be a force to be reckoned with. Georgia will head to Arkansas on Jan. 12 to get their first taste of SEC competition.
#12 Missouri @ Missouri quad
The Tigers opened their season by hosting a quad meet against Lindenwood, Northern Illinois, and SEMO. Missouri dominated the competition, scoring a program-best season opener with a 197.150 and earning 49+ on all events.
Jocelyn Moore tied Missouri’s highest score ever on floor with a 9.975, and after the high scores she put up on vault last season, is sure to make waves once again this year. Graduate student Sienna Schreiber was the all-around winner with a 39.4. Schreiber’s experience is clearly paying off as she had a composed and confident look on all events, but especially on beam scoring a 9.925.
Transfer Mara Titarsolej has now officially competed as a Tiger and her expertise on bars and beam helped Missouri cross the 49 mark on both events. Missouri only had two freshmen in its lineups: Hannah Horton and Rayna Light. Light and Horton both competed on vault and floor, but Horton had quite an electric start to her collegiate career. She scored a 9.9 on floor, which helped get Missouri into the 197 range, and she tied for the vault title with junior Amari Celestine (9.875).
Missouri will need to boost its bars score and work on sticking their vault landings if they are looking to upset No. 8 Alabama on Jan. 12.
#8 Alabama & #17 Auburn @ Mean Girls Super 16
Alabama opened the 2024 season with a statement win over No. 5 UCLA, No. 7 Cal, and No. 17 Auburn by scoring a 197.125. The Tide scored 49+ on all events and had 7 routines get scores of a 9.9 or higher.
The Tide was breathtaking on bars, scoring a 49.525. Out of the scores counted for the event, no one scored lower than a 9.875. Luisa Blanco (9.95) and freshman Cameron Machado (9.925) raised Alabama’s expectation for bars sets with flawless fluidity and tight, extended handstands.
Chloe LaCoursiere competed on vault (9.775) along with No. 1 overall recruit and fellow freshman Jamison Sears. One gymnast that is starting to emerge as a reliable asset to the team is sophomore Gabby Gladieux. Gladieux popped off in her floor routine, scoring a career high 9.975 and had all her teammates on the sidelines dancing to her routine. She has gorgeous lines while tumbling and displays great control, which also comes across in her graceful beam routines.
The Crimson Tide will have its home opener next week against No. 3 Missouri – what should be one of the most thrilling meets of the week.
The Tigers scored a 196.6 to finish third in the final session of the Mean Girls Super 16 meet on Saturday. They came in behind No. 8 Alabama (197.125) and No. 7 Cal (196.85) but beat No. 5 UCLA (196.55). Out of the 24 routines that the Tigers showed, 21 of them came from veterans.
Stepping into the spotlight for the Tigers at this meet was senior Olivia Hollingsworth. Hollingsworth contributed on each event, but the 9.9 that she scored on bars in the last rotation helped Auburn stay ahead of UCLA. It looks like Auburn could have a dynamic floor duo on their hands because graduate student Cassie Stevens also scored a 9.9 on floor just before Hollingsworth did.
Keeping in step with Hollingsworth and Stevens was junior Sophia Groth. Groth scored a 9.9 on bars, which was followed by Stevens scoring a 9.925. Both gymnasts got great height in their releases.
Freshman Julianne Huff made her Auburn debut by putting up solid scores on vault and floor. The real vault queen of the night for the Tigers was junior Sara Hubbard, who performed a gorgeous Yurchenko 1.5 and finished it off with a stick.
Next up, the Tigers host No. 9 Kentucky on Jan. 12.