COLUMBIA — Freshman Brittany Bendoff stepped up to do her uneven bar routine at gymnastics practice Thursday. Mess up and everyone on the team must redo their routine. Complete it successfully, and the team moves on.
Lauren Swankoski and Tori Howard, the other two freshmen on the Missouri gymnastics team, have had similar experiences as Bendoff in what they refer to as intrasquads at practice.
Missouri coach Rob Drass said he gives his team the task of hitting a certain amount of routines in a row on a given exercise, whether vault, bars, beam or floor. If he sets the number at 10, that many gymnasts in a row have to successfully complete their routines. If one misses, they all have to start over. Drass does this, in part, to help the freshmen get adjusted to competing for a team, rather than just for themselves.
“These guys have been going since they were probably 5 years old or younger, and it’s always about them and only them,” Drass said. “They qualify for the states, the regionals or the national championships based on their performance, not the performance of their team. Now it’s more team oriented in college.”
The intrasquads also allow the freshmen to be better equipped for regular season competition.
“I think it will help because it puts the pressure on you now,” Bendoff said. “You get nervous for it now, so once you get to a meet it feels more normal and feels more like you know how to do this.”
Although beneficial, the intrasquads don’t always leave the newest members of the team feeling great after practice. Howard said she was the last person in the lineup on Thursday. Being last, she knew everybody else had already hit. It was up to her.
When asked a day later if she was able to hit on her routine, she paused before saying, “No comment.”
Eventually Howard admitted to being unsuccessful. It was obvious in her facial expression that letting down the team still bothered her. Drass knows he can’t expect the three to handle everything perfectly right away.
“Learning how to handle that kind of pressure and that kind of expectation takes a little time,” Drass said. “It’s comforting later, but in the beginning it’s intimidating.”
The three are learning as a unit. When the Tigers split into groups for different drills in practice Friday, the three picked each other. Drass said they always seem to be together, relying on each other.
Still Drass said they have handled the new pressure differently. Bendoff tends to look to others for support. Swankoski keeps a level head, never getting too up or too down. Howard talks herself through the pressure in her “own little bubble.”
Even when they do mess up, the three said the rest of the team is supportive. The benefit of competing as a group rather than individually is that when one person doesn’t do as well as expected, others have the opportunity to raise Missouri’s score.
Plus, when one of them nails a perfect routine, there are 11 others to share the celebration. Bendoff experienced that during the vault intrasquad last week.
“I was last, and everyone before me had hit,” Bendoff said. “If I didn’t hit it would have been a big bummer on my part. But I ended up hitting and everyone was proud of me.”