School gymnastics is a small, often contentious household.
There are simply 49 Division I ladies’s applications competing this season. Coaches know one another and their staffs properly, as they compete for a similar finite pool of top-level recruits.
In some instances, although, the household circle is drawn even tighter. That’s the best way it’s at LSU with two of its freshmen gymnasts, Elena Arenas and Sierra Ballard.
Ballard is really household to LSU coach Jay Clark. Ballard’s dad Steven is the brother of Clark’s spouse Julie. And each Julie Ballard and Sierra’s mother, Lori Robust-Ballard, have been recruited by Clark to compete for Georgia when he was an assistant coach there.
Arenas is virtually household, too. Her mother, Kim Arnold Arenas, was additionally recruited by Clark to Georgia the place she turned one of many program’s all-time greats. And Elena’s father, Pete, performed baseball for the Bulldogs.
When the time got here for Elena and Sierra to decide on faculties, Clark needed each of them to choose LSU. However he didn’t need to depend on the household and household buddy angle too strongly.
“I actually made a aware effort to not play that card,” mentioned Clark, who leads No. 2-ranked LSU right into a meet at Friday at No. 6 Alabama (7:30 p.m., SECNetwork+). “I don’t assume that’s truthful to the youngsters. That may have put undue stress on them. I needed them to get pleasure from their recruiting.
The LSU gymnastics crew had victory over No. 1-ranked Florida in its arms … or, extra to the purpose, in its ft.
“At the back of my thoughts I assumed they might go to Georgia as a result of that’s the place their mother and father went. Not solely the mothers, however each dads went to Georgia. I wasn’t positive I needed to tug on the heartstrings if their hearts have been someplace else.”
So Clark downshifted their recruitments, tried onerous to simply be Coach Clark as a substitute of Uncle Jay. And each Arenas and Ballard wound up with the Tigers.
For Arenas, it was a need to write down her personal story.
“After all, my mother and father sort of needed me to go to Georgia, to proceed their legacy,” she mentioned. “However after they visited with me on (LSU’s) campus they understood and agreed it might be a great match for me. They let me comply with my coronary heart, so right here I’m now.”
In an ironic kind of approach, it was the household ambiance of the LSU program and never precise household that formed her choice.
“My mother and father undoubtedly have an enormous love for Georgia,” Ballard mentioned. “I do, too. The campus is beautiful. It’s a really good college. However the LSU gymnastics amenities and program have been the very best match for me. It’s the best way they’re centered on household and custom, and the love the teammates have for each other.”
Although her mother was the gymnastics phenom within the Arenas household — Kim was a two-time winner of the Honda Award — it was dad Pete that the majority helped form Elena’s gymnastics type on the household’s Watkinsville, Georgia, gymnasium membership, Georgia Elite. It’s the identical membership that was the launching pad for LSU senior Sami Durante.
“After I began it was extra my mother,” Arenas mentioned, “however after I bought to larger ranges my dad began to step in. We went to nationwide crew camps collectively. We grew collectively and each discovered loads.
“However mother set the bottom for the place I used to be. I need to be like mother. She’s my idol.”
Lori Robust-Ballard was a two-time Canadian Olympian, competing within the 1988 Seoul and 1992 Barcelona Video games. The Whitby, Ontario, native then got here south for school with Clark’s recruitment, the place she met Steven. She’s now a gymnastics commentator on SEC broadcasts and could also be in line to name LSU’s common season and residential finale in March towards Missouri.
“My mother was my coach as soon as we really found out I used to be critical,” Ballard mentioned. “She mentioned, ‘I’m going to step in and we’re going to do that proper.’ Aunt Julie additionally coached me a few occasions at our gymnasium (Northshore Gymnastics). That was enjoyable to get a brand new perspective from her.”
Each Arenas and Ballard have turn into common fixtures within the LSU lineup. Arenas has competed in each meet this season, recording a profession excessive 9.90 at Auburn on flooring. Ballard has competed on flooring the previous two meets, handing over a 9.925 this previous Friday towards Florida.
“They’re each very gifted athletes,” Clark mentioned. “Elena might be the extra well-known as a result of she was an elite nationwide crew member. However they each have unimaginable strengths.
“Elena is such a tenacious competitor. She needs to work greater than we will work in 20 hours per week. She by no means slows down. Her work ethic is second to none.
“Sierra has a wealth of expertise and skill. Her elbow prevents her from doing bars proper now and we could need to get (surgical procedure) within the offseason. She’s highly effective and likes to carry out. You watch her on flooring and her routine oozes enthusiasm. She’s very a lot a showperson when she’s on the market.”
Each groups are coming off disappointing outcomes regardless of what have been good scores. LSU had victory over No. 1 Florida in its grasp however a fall on the ultimate flooring cross by anchor Haleigh Bryant allowed the Gators to flee with a 198.150-198.050 win. It’s the one meet this season the place each groups had a plus-198 rating. Alabama had a strong rating at residence towards Georgia however misplaced 197.275-197.000.
No. 1 Florida edges out No. 2 LSU 198.150-198.050 Friday, February 12, on the LSU PMAC in Baton Rouge, La.
Crew SEC Pct. General Pct. Season Avg.
Florida 4-0 1.000 5-0 1.000 197.635
LSU 3-1 .750 4-1 .800 197.325
Alabama 3-1 .750 4-1 .800 196.665
Kentucky 3-1 .750 3-2 .600 196.245
Arkansas 1-3 .250 1-4 .200 196.755
Georgia 1-3 .250 2-3 .400 196.365
Missouri 1-3 .250 1-4 .200 195.265
Auburn 0-4 .000 0-5 .000 195.805
Final Friday’s outcomes
Florida 198.150, LSU 198.050
Georgia 197.275, Alabama 197.000
Kentucky 196.950, Arkansas 196.525
Missouri 196.175, Auburn 196.100
LSU at Alabama, 7:30 p.m. (SECNetwork+)
Kentucky at Florida, 6 p.m. (SEC Community)
Georgia at Auburn, 7 p.m. (SECNetwork+)
Missouri at Arkansas, 7:30 p.m. (SEC Community)
All occasions CST