COLUMBIA — For almost as long as Missouri has had a gymnastics program, it has participated in the Cat Classic. It’s a meet that has helped make the careers of Missouri gymnastic standouts like Mary Houghton and Julie Dorn. Both competed in the Cat Classic in 1980s and are members of the Missouri Intercollegiate Hall of Fame.
“It’s a prestigious college gymnastics meet that has a long history,” Dorn, now Julie McBride, said. “It basically put Missouri gymnastics on the map nationally many years ago when Jake Jacobson started it.”
Missouri coach Rob Drass agrees.
“I think it’s a very special meet and I think the community knows it by name,” Drass said. “I think everyone in town knows when you say ‘Cat Classic,’ they know you’re talking about gymnastics so I think its got a very special feel.”
The field for the 28th Annual Cat Classic, which starts at 6:30 p.m. today at the Hearnes Center, is the strongest in recent years because of a format change. In past years, the Cat Classic has been a two-day event with a team competition Friday and an individual competition Saturday. However, due to concerns over the gymnasts’ health, the individual competition has been canceled because of the attrition that two straight days of competition can put on the gymanasts’ bodies.
With less risk for injury, this year’s Cat Classic has brought in the likes of No. 4 Michigan, No. 22 Ohio State and California-Berkeley. On the heels of performing against rival Oklahoma, the No. 14 Tigers will have to keep up the intensity.
“We saw Michigan last year and we beat them in Michigan, so we know they are out for blood this year,” senior Ashley Khederian said. “We know they’re going to try and beat us in our own house and we just want to stop them.”
For Khederian, it will also be her last time performing in the Cat Classic and she wants to continue the Tigers’ recent Cat Classic success. “It’s exciting and we really want to win again to make it four in a row,” Khederian said. “We always get a big crowd, so it’s fun.”
The younger gymnasts are also excited to compete in a nationally-known meet.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” freshman Alex Gold said. “I remember watching it two years ago on my unofficial visit here, so I am really looking forward to actually compete in it.”
With 21 of the top 22 attendance marks for Missouri gymnastics coming from the Cat Classic, the crowd is expected to be big.
“You just try to think that all the people here (at Hearnes Center) are rooting for you and watching you,” said sophomore Brooke Boehmer, who missed last year’s meet because of a knee injury. “You try to use the crowd’s energy to help you through your routine and to do the best that you can.”
The gymnast who helped lead Missouri to its first Cat Classic title in 1990 is excited about the prospects of the current team.
“The athletic talent that is on this team right now and scoring the way they are right now bodes well for the rest of the season,” McBride said. “From my time back in Columbia, this is one of the strongest teams they’ve had.”