When Sarah Edwards landed perfectly following a vault during the NCAA's Super Six on April 21, even she couldn't quite believe what had just happened.
“I was shocked,” the LSU gymnast said. “In the video, my foot lifted up and sat back down. I thought, 'Wow, I really stuck this.'”
Stuck it, indeed.
The scoreboard flashed a 9.95 — the best score in the vault that day for LSU.
Wearing a mile-wide grin, Edwards waved to family and fans as she raced over to celebrate with her teammates.
“Getting to stick it and have a contributing score, I was so excited,” the Ocean Springs native said. “That was my first time to wear the stick crown for vault, so I was pumped about that.
“It's so cool to see all the work you put in finally pay off.”
The Lady Tigers ended up finishing fourth in the nation during the Super Six in St. Louis, but Edwards showed this season as a walk-on freshman that she will have a major role to play for one of the nation's top gymnastics programs.
“Normally a freshman gets the reputation of not competing much and red-shirting the first year,” the 4-foot-11 Edwards said. “I was really excited about the opportunity placed in front of me.”
Edwards took full advantage of her chances this season, contributing in the floor routine along with the vault. She registered a score in the vault in 15 out of 16 events and tallied a score in nine out of 16 events in the floor routine.
Her 9.95 in the vault during the Super Six was her high score of the year, topping a 9.90 that she reached in three previous events.
After getting a chance to walk on at LSU, Edwards is fulfilling a dream that's been in the making ever since she first gave the sport a try as a 3-year-old.
“It's really been a neat experience,” Edwards said. “I was one of those fan girls, going to all the LSU meets and different SEC meets just to watch them. I was awestruck. It's cool to see it from the other side.”
Edwards attended her first LSU gymnastics camp at 7. By the time she was an eighth-grader, Edwards was competing for Lanier's Gymnastics in Gulfport. She was sidelined by a back injury during her freshman and sophomore years of high school, but that didn't hold her back in her pursuit of reaching college gymnastics' highest level.
On March 24, Edwards and the rest of her LSU teammates celebrated an SEC championship in Chaifetz Arena in St. Louis — the same location of the NCAA's Super Six.
Edwards, who is majoring in environmental engineering, had a 9.90 in the vault to help the Lady Tigers claim the SEC title for a second consecutive season.
“I was so excited when we won SEC,” Edwards said. “The confetti fell and we got the hats and shirts. Going to class wearing the SEC championship shirt, it was kind of cool knowing that the team had just done that.”
SEC titles have become commonplace for LSU gymnastics. The squad is undefeated against SEC competition over the last two seasons under the direction of head coach D-D Breaux, who has been on the job for four decades.
“She is a great coach,” Edwards said. “She is equipped with all the skills to fine tune and make gymnasts look LSU caliber. She's such a role model. She does things in and out of the gym. She volunteers for community service. She is the first phone call if you ever need something.”
As far as work ethic, Breaux demands effort and attention to detail.
“We don't have any slackers,” Edwards said. “You can't at this point. If you want to make the lineup, you put in the effort for it. Everybody is so determined. I think that's what helps. The upperclassmen show this is how we do things. They created the whole mindset.”
The LSU gymnastics program has a large following, often drawing crowds of 11,000 for meets at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
Edwards was nervous the first time she competed in front of a home crowd, and that's understandable, considering the largest crowd she had performed for previously was about 50.
Edwards' parents, Scott and Renee, were along for the ride this season. They attended every meet at LSU and were in St. Louis for the Super Six, holding up an over-sized picture of Sarah.
“They bought into it, the whole program,” Edwards said. “They're LSU fans now.
“It's crazy to see how the fans followed us. We'd walk into the hotel lobby and they'd have the LSU chant going. I love the fan base.”
With a strong season in the books, Edwards and the rest of the team will take the month of May off before working their way back into preparations for the 2019 campaign.
If Edwards continues to impress, that “walk-on” title may eventually be removed.
“I guess only time will tell with that one,” she said. “It's really up in the air. I don't get into the politics. If you go out and do your job, everything else will fall into place.”