SEC Gymnastics Championship coming to New Orleans

The SEC Gymnastics Championship is coming to NOLA for the first time in the meet’s history, where LSU hopes to defend its title. Photo from LSU Athletics via

Demi Guillory, Reporter

If you are unaware that gymnastics exists outside of an Olympic year—let alone as an actual collegiate sport—consider yourself part of the majority. Despite its popularity being steadily on the rise over the last few years — no doubt due in large part to pop-culture inspired floor routines going viral across social media, the most recent this season from UCLA’s Katelyn Ohashi — NCAA gymnastics tends to fly under the radar in the shadow of other, more popular mainstream sports. But now, the SEC Gymnastics Championship is coming right up the road to the Smoothie King Center for the first time on Saturday, March 23.

Many of the world’s top gymnasts and even a few former Olympians will be here. These world-class gymnasts, also known as elites, have retired to collegiate gymnastics because there is more of an emphasis on having fun and enjoying the sport and less on winning medals or trophies. Consequently, many elite-turned-NCAA stars have more success in college than they’ve ever dreamed about having in the elite world, which makes the four-year experience even more rewarding for both gymnasts and fans alike. Some of these include Sarah Finnegan, the 2012 Olympic team alternate; Lexie Priessman; Trinity Thomas; and Alyssa Baumann.

Baumann, who is in her sophomore year at the University of Florida, represented the United States at the 2014 World Championships in Nanning, China. The team won the gold medal by an overwhelmingly large margin. All four of these exceptional, gravity-defying gymnasts, and many others, will soon be right here in New Orleans, and locals will have the opportunity to see them.

The tickets to the meet, which start at $17 through Ticketmaster, grant access to both sessions of the competition, where eight schools will be vying for the highly coveted SEC tournament title. Greg Sankey, SEC Commissioner, is quoted in the official SEC press release to be “excited” about the meet being here in New Orleans, saying that the city has a “rich tradition of hosting championship events in all sports and the SEC is proud to have played a significant role in that legacy.”

While we unfortunately won’t be cheering for local gymnasts because we have no gymnastics team, a couple of gymnasts from the New Orleans metro area will be competing, including Olivia Gunter from Mandeville and Rebecca D’Antonio from right here in the city. Our own neighboring college in Baton Rouge, LSU, will certainly be one to watch as  the reigning champs fight to secure a third consecutive win and the school’s fourth overall — their first came in 1981. LSU has what some may consider a “home field advantage.” They average an impressive 10,000 people in attendance at home competitions, second only to Utah for the highest gymnastics attendance. Many expect the fiercely dedicated fan base to take the road trip to the Smoothie King Center this spring.

The March competition, as well as other conference championships, mark the beginning of the NCAA gymnastics postseason. Regionals follow two weeks later, when eight teams will advance to the National Championship to compete for a spot on “Four on the Floor.” This final round of competition will feature four teams competing for that elusive national title.

The March 23 competition will be one of the most unique events the city has had to offer in years. Both sessions of the competition will also be streamed live on the SEC Network.