COLUMBIA — Qualifying for the NCAA National Championships in gymnastics requires a team to finish in the top two in its regional. When the Missouri gymnastics team found out it was in the same regional as No. 6 Stanford and No. 7 Louisiana State on Monday, it was not intimidated, but rather enthusiastic.
“We were excited because it was either that or Oregon State and that was a really long trip, so we weren’t looking forward to going back there,” senior Lisa Puccio said of an earlier meet at Oregon State. “It’s just another challenge that we have to face with two really good teams.”
The No. 18 Tigers competed at OSU Feb. 16 in four-team meet, but it was a physically draining trip to Corvallis, Ore. The Tigers’ regional on April 12 is hosted by Louisiana State in Baton Rouge, La., a more geographically convenient location.
“We’re excited to go to LSU. It’s one of the closer regionals, so travel is a little easier than going to some other places,” Missouri coach Rob Drass said. “We’re a No. 3 seed, so we got a little work cut out for us and we are going to have to pull an upset.”
For the Tigers to advance to school’s second NCAA Championship, they will need to beat two of the best teams in the country on and will likely need to eclipse their season high point total of 195.800--probably by a wide margin.
“We really feel like we hold up well against a lot of teams,” Drass said. “We haven’t had that lights-out meet yet, but hopefully we saved it for the Regional Championships.”
Senior Nikki Bowman says the competition should not affect the team.
“I think we’ve competed against a lot of hard teams this year,” Bowman said. “We can definitely hang in there with the best of them, it’s just that we have to go in there with confidence and not even think about that they have Olympians on (the other) teams, we just have to focus on ourselves.”
Drass says his team received a fortunate draw in the order of competition. Because there are six teams and only four events, two teams have byes during each of the six rotations. The Tigers were chosen to start the meet on the vault, an event they begin with in home meets, giving the team a more familiar feeling. They will also compete in last rotation on the floor exercise, which will give the team a better idea of the score they need to place in the top two.
The other three teams competing at regionals will be Ohio State, whom the Tigers have already beaten this year, Kentucky and Kent State.
While the meet will undoubtedly be intense, it will also allow some of the MU gymnasts to see friends from different schools. Many of Tigers’ gymnasts trained with gymnasts on the other regional teams. Drass says that seeing familiar faces is actually a help not a distraction.
“Gymnastics is a small little world so every time we go up against a team, there are friends and former teammates,” Drass said. “We know them, they know us. There is less of an awe factor or an ‘Oh my, we’re up against this team.’ It’s a known entity and it’s just our job to go out there and hit our routines.”
Puccio agrees with her coach.
“I don’t think it’s that much of a distraction,” Puccio said. “You know what you have to do during a meet, so you try not to let other teams distract you. But you want to make sure you wish (your friends) luck.”
The Tigers compete in the NCAA Central Regional April 12.