1.5.18 Gym vs Arkansas

LSU junior McKenna Kelley deems freshman Christina Desiderio "stick queen" during the Tigers' 197.15-195.350 victory against Arkansas on Friday, Jan. 5, 2018, in the PMAC.

The University of Miami football team has a “turnover chain,” but LSU gymnastics has its own bling.

The Tigers debuted the “stick crown” at their season opening win over Arkansas.

Coach Jay Clark, who coached at the University of Georgia at the same time as Miami football coach Mark Richt, had the idea after watching how the Hurricanes’ defense reacted to the turnover chain.

The fun the team was having on the sideline and the passion they played with drew Clark to find a similar way to keep his gymnasts loose.

“I think that as a coach you always look for those things,” Clark said. “You want your team focused and you want them intense, but you also want them to be loose. I think that it’s pretty clear that in our sport to have them be loose it creates a sort of contagious environment that can sometimes get the momentum going.”

After Clark suggested the idea of something similar to Miami’s turnover chain, the team took the idea and ran with it. They contemplated smaller things like a sash or tiara, but settled on something big that could be seen from the crowd.

“We were trying to figure out the logistics of how to put the crown on over our buns but it worked out great,” freshman all-arounder Sarah Edwards joked.

Clark didn’t know how his idea would be taken by both the team and the crowd, but it quickly became a hit.

Junior all-arounder Lexie Priessman was the first one of the night to receive the crown after a 9.90 vault and it snowballed from there.

The idea is easy to understand: like the turnover chain, whoever sticks their landing will get the crown until someone else sticks their landing and the crown is passed on.

The execution, however, was so much more. The passing down of the crown to the following person has turned into a full-on knighting and crowning ceremony spearheaded by the injured junior McKenna Kelley, who used pom-poms to knight the stick queens.

“Obviously her physical role has diminished this year to where she cannot compete, but if she’s not around, we’ve got problem,” Clark said. “I’m just saying because her energy is so infectious and I just thought it was something that she would be able to take and run with and turn it into something that the team would really enjoy.”

Not only are they enjoying the crown, they are using it as motivation to get better all around.

In the season opener, seven different gymnasts donned the crown, with junior all-arounder Sarah Finnegan winning in twice.

“It’s more motivation than competition,” Finnegan said. “Just like, ‘oh I want to have the crown next.’ If it’s a stick, it’s a stick and I think you should be rewarded for that. We want our teammates to stick it. If I’ve done my job and did my turn, then I want to pass it on to the next one.”

The gymnasts aren’t reluctant to crown the next stick queen. The crown has become a way to instill confidence and energy in both veterans and newcomers alike.

In a sport that involves a lot of nerves, Clark thinks the crown is a perfect way to keep the team in the moment and not worry about any external noise.

“That’s just something that we wanted to start just for a little bit of confidence here and there,” Priessman said. “When you get the stick crown you know what you’re capable of doing.”

As the team travels to Florida next week, the crown will travel with them. Coach D-D Breaux has preached about staying in the “purple zone” at away meets and the crown offers an opportunity for the team to stay within themselves.

“I think it’s something just for our team just to have fun,” Priessman said. “It’s something to get our mind off of the actual meet that’s happening. If you’re a little stressed then this is something that’s fun because college gymnastics is a fun thing to do.”

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