Breaux's Tigers open at No. 7

Sporting one of the most talented lineups in recent history, the LSU gymnastics team has its sights set on one thing and one thing only in 2006, a berth into the NCAA Super Six team finals.

Having missed the championship round by the narrowest of margins in recent years, the 13-member squad, guided by head coach D-D Breaux, has no plans of resting until the elusive goal is achieved.

The hard work began last spring and has continued into fall training where the veteran group that returns eight letterwinners, including a trio of All-Americans and three All-SEC performers, has been diligent and steadfast in their preparations for the upcoming season.

"We're strong, we're fit and this team is confident in their abilities," said Breaux. "They know what it takes to make the Super Six and I know they won't be satisfied unless they get there."

The Seniors

Leading that march to the Super Six finals is an accolade laden senior class comprised of April Burkholder, Terin Martinjak and Kelly Lea.

Burkholder, the reigning SEC and  NCAA Central Region Gymnast of the Year, has been the Tigers' anchor in the all-around each of the past three seasons. She is expected to again serve that role come January.

"The thing that has made April so successful is her determination and her consistency," said Breaux. "If you can go into competition 100% sure, confident in your gymnastics and with no fear, you are going to be able to master what you are doing. April has done that, and that's what she brings to this team. It's total utter confidence."

Burkholder's confidence is justified as she has earned a total of nine All-America honors and won a team-leading 18 all-around titles and 59 individual event crowns during her career.

Martinjak, a 2005 All-America selection on the beam, has been a staple in the Tigers' beam and floor lineups the past three years and should again have a dominant presence in those events.

"We feel like Terin is going to be a real steady and mature factor in our lineup," said Breaux. "Her beam is as solid as ever and while we are asking her to increase her difficulty on floor, we think she can continue to contribute on that event as much as she has in the past."

Lea, the Tigers' leadoff performer on the bars last season, also saw action on the floor in 2005. She has upgraded her tumbling during the offseason and will challenge for positions in both lineups.

The Juniors

Rounding out this year's upperclassmen is the junior trio of Lisa Rennie, Nicki Butler and Kelly Phelan. Invaluable members of the LSU squad over the last two seasons, the threesome accounted for 10 of the Tigers' 24 routines in 2005.

"This group has really been the support personnel in our lineup the last two years," said Breaux. "They are fierce competitors that compete with a lot of difficulty and consistency. They have the possibility of accounting for 12 of our 24 scores. As a coach you can't ask for more productivity than that."

Rennie was one of the Tigers' top producers on the bars, beam and floor in 2005. She garnered 11 individual event titles – six on the beam, five on the bars – during the regular season and capped the year by earning both All-America and All-SEC honors on the bars.

"Lisa is somebody that lives to compete," said Breaux. "We feel like she will be a rock for us in any event we put her in."

Butler emerged as a top all-arounder for the Tigers late last year. She finished the season as a second-team All-SEC selection and has her sights set even higher in 2006.

"Nicki is asking even more of herself than we are asking of her," said Breaux. "She has been training harder and with more focus this preseason. We fully expect to open the year with her in the all-around."

One of the LSU's most dependable athletes, Phelan is a staple in the Tigers' vault, beam and floor lineups, that has been called into all-around action on several occasions.

"Kelly's calling card is that she can hit and that's the bottom line," said Breaux.

Phelan proved that in 2005, hitting a remarkable 51 of her 53 competitive routines.

The Sophomores

A talented duo, in Ashleigh Clare-Kearney and Emily Ellis, make up this year's sophomore class. 

Clare-Kearney had a sensational debut campaign, positioning herself as one of the Tigers' most dynamic performers on the vault and floor. In 2005, she won a combined 11 individual events titles on those two events and even claimed an all-around crown in her only four-event appearance of the season.

Due to a bruised bone in her wrist, Clare-Kearney sat out most of September and October, but has since returned to full practices and is training the vault, beam and floor for the upcoming year.

"Ashleigh is chomping at the bit," said Breaux. "She's back and she is eager and anxious to get out there and compete. I have no doubts she'll be ready come Jan. 6."

Ellis sat out all of 2005 after suffering a broken arm during the preseason. She returns for her sophomore year with a clean bill of health and has the possibility to crack the lineup on any of the four events.

"Emily has worked so hard. She has been training the all-around and looks great," said Breaux. "We are looking at her performance right now as if this was her freshman year. We anticipate that we may have to suffer through some inconsistencies until she finds her groove, but once she gets in it, I think she is going to rock the house."

The Freshmen

The Tigers welcome five fresh faces to campus in Lauren Klein, Amanda Morales, Vanessa Rodriquez, Christina Suhr and Teri Gibson.

"We feel like this freshmen class is going to make some real contributions," said Breaux. "As a group they are wonderful to work with. They are positive, smart, focused and engaged in what they are doing."

Leading the way is Klein, a Level 10 national qualifier, who hails from The Woodlands, Texas. Breaux feels she is the freshman that has the best chance of first breaking into the all-around lineup.

"Lauren is on all-around pace," said Breaux. "We've gotten great training, great commitment to our conditioning and good focus from her and that has transcended into steady progress since her arrival."

Morales, the freshmen class' only in-state product, joins the Tigers from Covington. A Level 10 athlete at North Shore Gymnastics, Morales was a state and regional all-around champion before tearing the ACL in her right knee during her junior season.

"Amanda is a sleeping giant," said Breaux. "She had a knee injury that required follow up surgery, but she is working hard and with each week she continues to get better and better."

Rodriguez and Suhr both join the Tigers from the Sunshine state. Rodriquez, a three-time Level 10 national qualifier and the 2005 Florida state all-around champion, hails from Homestead where she trained at Universal Gymnastics.

Suhr, another three-time Level 10 national qualifier, finished ninth on the beam at the 2005 championship meet. A native of Windermere, Suhr trained at Orlando Metro Gymnastics, the former club of current teammate Kelly Phelan.

Rounding out the list of newcomers is Gibson, who comes to Baton Rouge from Burlington, Ontario, where she was a member of the Canadian Senior National Team.

"If desire, hard work and a good attitude would get her in the lineup, Teri would be our best athlete," said Breaux. "She has the skills and the difficulty, but she also has a real mature upperclass group ahead of her that may make it hard to break into the lineup early in the season."

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