Coach D-D Breaux says there's no greater place compete in collegiate gymnastics than in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, and the Tigers return there Friday night.
The fourth-ranked LSU gymnastics team currently hold a 34-game home win streak that they hope to carry through a tough 2019 season, starting with No. 8 Cal-Berkeley.
"They went to nationals last year," Breaux said. "They had a great season and a great recruiting class so it'll be a good first meet. We're looking forward to a great competition."
Breaux expects the lineups to be similar to those used in LSU's Gym 101 exhibition.
LSU returned 20 routines from last season's Super Six team, most notably the reigning 15-time All-American and Southeastern Conference Gymnast of the Year Sarah Finnegan. Finnegan is an all-around competitor who has a career high 9.925 on vault and 10.0 on bars, beam and floor.
"Sarah Finnegan is the quintessential, the best leader you can have," Breaux said. "She leads by example, she leads with her spirit. Her gymnastics speaks for itself. She's done a great job for us."
D-D Breaux just compared #LSU senior Sarah Finnegan to Saints QB Drew Brees’ leadership style.— Kennedi Landry (@landryyy14) January 3, 2019
Senior all-arounder McKenna Kelley will make her official return to the PMAC after missing all of 2018 with a torn Achilles tendon. She will only compete on floor — where she averaged 9.902 her sophomore season — against Cal.
Breaux said that Kelley's vault is ready, but there is no reason to push it so soon with a different environment and landing. She also doesn't rule out seeing Kelley on beam in the coming meets.
LSU's beam lineup will be the most changed since the 2018 season after losing the one-two punch of Myia Hambrick and Erin Macadaeg on the event.
Sophomore all-arounder Christina Desiderio — who averaged 9.832 on beam as a freshman — will likely start the event for the Tigers, while fellow sophomores Sami Durante and Bridget Dean will also provide depth for the Tigers' beam lineup.
"You don't know what to expect for the first meet, but [Desiderio] did a great job for us in 101, which is an opportunity that you take advantage of," Breaux said. "She went first and did really well."
"We've got some question marks in that event, but we feel like they're every bit as competitive as what we had in that lineup last year."
Though LSU lost Hambrick on vault and floor, as well as beam, the Tigers are reloading as always.
In 2018, LSU averaged 49.352 on vault, a tenth of a point lower than 2017.
"That's a matter of sticking their landings," Breaux said. "Those things begin to happen, you don't expect them to happen now. You expect them at midseason. You want them to happen when Florida comes. You want to be at your best when a team ranked higher than you comes, but you can't overlook anybody while we get there."
Kelley and mid-year enrollee Bailey Ferrer will provide depth on vault as the season progresses, but neither will make an appearance against Cal. Junior all-arounder Ruby Harrold is "as good as she's been" since arriving in Baton Rouge from Bristol, England. Breaux said Harrold's vault is better than it has been in past seasons.
Finnegan and sophomore Kennedi Edney will provide added stability on vault as they both return to the all-around for the Tigers. Breaux calls it a healthy competition between the two as they both strive to help their team win.
Edney will anchor on both floor and vault for the Tigers in 2019.
"She's solid as a rock on beam and has really matured in her execution on bars," Breaux said. "I think she should be one of the top all-arounders in the country all season long."
Breaux ultimately wants to stay within the process as the Tigers enter another season.
"I want the crowd, I want the energy, I want the enthusiasm," Breaux said. "This is a new team and the energy and enthusiasm that our fans bring and our team brings to this event — I want it to collide. I want a 197, I want a win and I want it to be fun."