Coach D-D Breaux started her 42nd season in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center with LSU's 35th win at home in a row.
After an unusually rough start on vault for LSU, the Tigers were able to bounce back for a 196.775-195.650 win over California-Berkeley. It was the lowest team score since LSU put up a 196.875 against Georgia in 2016. That was the last time LSU scored lower than 197.
"I think we're starting in a very good place," Breaux said. "We have a lot of new people in the lineup, a lot of faces that you haven't seen before. We've got some improving to do, but what a great place to be starting."
Breaux said that while the team's score was a bit of a disappointment and the 197 is a benchmark for them, she knows what they need to work on going into their SEC schedule.
Senior all-arounder Sarah Finnegan and junior all-arounder Kennedi Edney both competed in the all-around for the Tigers, where Finnegan won with a score of 39.675. Edney posted a 39.300.
"In preseason, we focused on consistency and putting ourselves in the right mindset for when we do go and compete," Finnegan said. "Today was the first day of actually being in that setting. I thought today was a great baseline."
LSU got off to a rough start on vault, which is normally a strong event for the Tigers. Senior all-arounders Julianna Cannamela and Lexie Priessman started with a 9.85 and 9.90, respectively.
The Tigers ran into trouble when junior all-arounder Ruby Harrold and sophomore all-arounder Sarah Edwards fell on their vaults, causing LSU to count Edwards' 9.35.
Finnegan and Edney finished strong with a 9.875 and 9.85. LSU finished the first rotation trailing Cal 48.8250-49.1250.
It was the lowest score LSU had on vault since scoring 48.750 against BYU in 2011.
"We either were absolutely excellent on vault, or we got small," Breaux said. "The two that get small, [Harrold and Edwards] were 10.0 start value vaults and both of those vaulters will be back in the lineup next week. We'll see a different vault lineup against Florida."
LSU bounced back on bars with a 49.350 on the event. Harrold rebounded after a fall with a solid performance on her specialty event, scoring a 9.925.
Edney and Finnegan continued to show their talents, as they both put up 9.90s.
LSU and Cal were tied at 98.1750 going into the third event.
Junior all-arounder McKenna Kelley says that LSU's resilience and fight allowed them to come back. Edney said she didn't even notice they were behind because of the energy of the team.
"Those are words that we talk about all the time in our team meetings," Breaux said. "To win the big ones, you've got to have consistency. We lost a little consistency tonight, but we also learned a lot about ourselves and the team — that they can fight and come back and never give up."
LSU struggled more than usual on beam, only having one score higher than 9.90. Finnegan put up a 9.95, while Durante had a 9.85, Edney had 9.825 and Campbell had 9.875.
LSU is replacing two heavy hitters at the beginning of the beam lineup after Erin Macadaeg and Myia Hambrick graduated last year. Sophomore all-arounders Christina Desiderio and Bridget Dean stepped into those one and two spots, scoring 9.825 and 9.775, respectively.
"That start-off position is critically important, and Christina has filled it well," Breaux said. "She did a really good job at [Gymnastics] 101, which told us a little about this beam lineup and the next person up was fabulous."
LSU lead 147.500-147.125 going into the final event. Despite the comeback effort, the Tigers weren't able to totally bounce back from the falls on vault and reach a score of 197 for the 40th time in a row.
LSU seemed to still be able to finish with a 197 despite a few stumbles, but a few more on floor left them below the target goal.
Desiderio stumbled and scored a 9.25, and Edney stepped out of bounds for a 9.725 on an otherwise perfect routine to finish at 49.275 on floor.
The silver lining for the Tigers was the return of junior McKenna Kelley on the floor, who missed all of 2018 with a torn Achilles tendon. She debuted with a 9.90 on the event to loud cheers from her teammates and the 10,788 fans in the PMAC.
"I think I was more focused on getting up there and doing my routine," Kelley said. "I mean we could just wave at the crowd and they would go bananas, so I know they're going to support us regardless."
The Tigers will travel to face Auburn Jan. 11 to begin SEC play.
"Stay in the process," Breaux said. "Take it one day at a time. We're not going to win a national championship at Auburn next week, but we need to beat Auburn to move in a positive direction."