COLUMBIA — Everybody knows about the ZouCrew, the student cheering section for Missouri men’s basketball games. But the women’s team also has a distinct cheering group of its own. Seated in the bleachers at the east end of the arena and adorned in their own yellow t-shirts, Jessra’s Jungle provides a lift for the Tiger players.
And while the big, black letters on the shirts say “Jessra’s Jungle” on the front and “Roar 4 Jessra” on the back, the section is more than just a Jessra Johnson fan club. The section shows up at the arena to support the entire Missouri team.
“Supporting Jessra and the whole team,” Jungle founder Tess Hayes said. “I like them all. They’re a lot of fun to watch.”
Hayes, a volunteer at Fayette High School, serves as a mentor to Johnson and has watched her play basketball since her freshman year in high school. Jessra’s Jungle consists of a group of fans from Johnson’s hometown of Fayette, Mo.
“We just all wanted to come and show our love for her,” said Denise Johnson, mother of Jessra.
The group came up with the idea after seeing “Welcome to the Jungle” up on the Mizzou Arena video board two seasons ago. Jessra’s Jungle seemed to be the perfect fit and the name stuck. Hayes’ daughter, Becky Kurtz, came up with the idea for “Roar 4 Johnson,” seeing that Jessra’s jersey number is No. 4. The Jungle can get pretty big at times, with as many as 85 members attending the games.
“We just want her to know that we support her,” Denise Johnson said. “That we love her. That’s our goal and our agenda.”
The t-shirts were made by a friend of the group, Julia Johnmeyer, who later died of cancer.
“We wear them all the time, so they’re very special to us,” Denise Johnson said.
When the Tigers are playing well, everybody can hear the roar coming from Jessra’s Jungle.
“I’m glad that they’re still here and supporting,” Jessra Johnson said. “I know that when I missed a couple games that they were still here for the team so I like that they still show love for the Tigers.”
Jessra Johnson lets the group know how much she appreciates what they do.
“She signed a media guide for Becky,” Hayes said. “It said ‘Thanks for creating my jungle, it means the world to me.’”
With the group in attendance Saturday afternoon, Jessra Johnson and the Tigers didn’t disappoint. After falling behind by 15 early on, the Tigers stormed back for a 72-66 victory over the Duquesne Dukes. Jessra Johnson was one of three Tigers in double figures with 12 points and added four rebounds. She also led the team in assists and blocks with four in each category. One of those assists came on a smooth behind the back pass to RaeShara Brown who completed the play with a lay-up. The basket gave the Tigers a 47-45 lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
“Jessra’s just such a great passer,” Missouri coach Cindy Stein said. “She makes a lot of things happen. She’s hitting shots. She obviously had some great defensive plays today. She sees the floor so well for us on the offensive end.”
With an important game looming against No. 15 Xavier at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday night at Mizzou Arena, Jessra’s Jungle should be out in full force rooting for a Missouri victory.