Seconds after head coach D-D Breaux finished her pre-meet speech, the LSU gymnastics team broke their huddle and headed toward the door of the locker room.
Without hesitation each gymnast, coach and support staff member reached up and gave a confident slap to the WIN! bar before entering the St. John Arena competition floor at the NCAA Columbus Regional on April 6.
Three hours later, that WIN! bar made its way to the top of the podium in the grasp of the Tigers who stood victorious as the regional champions.
“It has become our little rock, and it represents the pride and tradition of the LSU Tigers,” Breaux said. “The mantra that we are constantly saying is ‘The pride and tradition of the LSU Tigers will not be entrusted to the weak or the timid,’ so it carries that theme throughout what we do.”
LSU Gymnastics Director of Operations Sara Pollock introduced the idea of the traveling WIN! bar in the fall, and it was met with immediate enthusiasm by the coaching staff and gymnasts.
“We wanted to create as many opportunities as we could to make our team feel like they were at home when we traveled,” Pollock said. “It has become something that right before we walk out of the visitor’s locker room, the ladies see me standing there holding that WIN! bar and they know to go out there in our zone ready to do what we need to do to be successful.”
Every road meet this season has provided an opportunity for one gymnast to take responsibility of the WIN! bar, carrying it with her the entire trip and ensuring it is in the locker room for the team to slap on the way out to competition.
“It becomes a fun experience for each girl who carries it,” Pollock said. “They have rallied around it. It gives them something to take care of and be proud to bring with them.”
The WIN! bar is, of course, borrowed from the football team who has the original bar mounted above the doors leading to the Tiger Stadium field, and it is that thrill of carrying on the football team’s tradition that many of the Tiger gymnasts find so appealing.
“I am big on traditions and that’s one of the main reasons why I chose LSU because it’s so tradition-oriented,” junior Maliah Mathis said. “I love the WIN! bar because I feel like I am competing not just for teammates now but for all those that came before us.”
For Pollock and the coaches, they wanted the WIN! bar to mean more to the gymnasts, so in the fall they had each gymnast write a focus word or two on the bar so that each time they slapped it they could think of their focus words and prepare mentally for competition.
“Writing focus words on the WIN! bar was the gymnasts being part of the process,” Pollock said. “It’s more than just ‘win;’ it’s a reminder that each person had a part in making the bar what it is, and if each person does what they have as their focus word, then that will bring the team together and our momentum will build.”
Mathis said the bar features serious words and inside jokes to make sure the team is focused but also loose before competitions.
“I wrote #swag,” she said. “It’s what D-D always says: ‘Approach everything with a swagger and confidence,’ and I put the hashtag because it’s funny. It’s one of our team jokes of the year to hashtag everything.”
Junior all-arounder Kaleigh Dickson wrote “confident and aggressive” on the bar, and this season she has seen measured improvement in her performance, including career highs on vault, bars, beam and the all-around.
“I think it has become a superstition for me personally now to make sure I hit the bar with both hands before I go out to the competition floor,” Dickson said. “When I slap the bar I think about being confident and aggressive in my routines. All those words we wrote need to show in our performances, and that is what is going to make us be able to do what the bar is all about and that’s to win.”
In a season in which LSU has compiled a 20-6 record, captured the NCAA Columbus Regional title and earned the No. 5 national ranking entering the NCAA championships, there is little doubt the WIN! bar has served its purpose well, but the season is not finished yet.
“At the SEC Championship and the regional, the WIN! bar was with us on the floor at all times during warm ups and in the locker room before we came out,” Pollock said. “It will be that way at nationals this week too.”
For the final times this season, the Tigers will break the huddle in the locker room and reach up to hit the WIN! bar, ready to fight for a spot in the Super Six and beyond.