Missouri gymnasts senior Sarah Shire and sophomore Mary Burke are two reasons the Tigers were in the NCAA national rankings at No. 11 entering this weekend's competition. Burke ranks as the seventh best all-around gymnast in the country, while Shire is No. 13.
The pair came through again for Missouri in its meet Saturday at Nebraska. Shire won the all-around competition and Burke was second, but the Tigers couldn't earn a victory, falling to the Cornhuskers 194.700-193.175.
Shire also won the vault, balance beam and floor exercise for the Tigers.
“I think she leads, first and foremost, by example,” Missouri coach Rob Drass said of Shire before the meet. “She does an extremely good job of getting the job done in the gym and getting the job done in competition. That’s one of the things all the team members can take from her and see how she really shines in a meet.”
Burke agreed her older teammate does more for the team than just put up high scores.
“Sarah has done so much for this team,” Burke said. “She’s such a good leader and just pushes everyone, encourages everyone. She sets an example for the rest of us.”
Shire said she takes pride in her leadership role on the team. Of the 12 gymnasts on Missouri’s roster, seven are underclassmen, and Shire said she wants those underclassmen to carry on the work she has done over her career at Missouri.
“I really want to focus on being a good leader outside of the gym as well,” Shire said. “I want to take the experiences that I’ve been through, and I have kind of been through a lot, and I want to share as much of that as I can with the team. Hopefully, so that whenever I leave, this tradition continues, and we continue to get better. I don’t want it to stop with my senior class.”
Burke, who has worked hard to improve from a freshman year that saw the Tigers fall short of advancing to the NCAA National Championship meet, is one of those the Tigers will depend on.
“I remember talking to her at (the NCAA South Central Regional meet),” Shire said. “We were both crying, we were both upset, and told her ‘Remember that feeling. Never let it happen again. We’re never going to let it slip away again.’ She took that through preseason, and has carried it all the way with her. She’s polished. She’s refined. And she looks like a polished collegiate athlete now.”
Burke is putting up numbers that rival those of her senior teammate, as well as anyone else the Tigers have squared off against this season. Shire said she and Burke have a playful rivalry and use it to improve.
“She’s pushing me in the gym every day, too,” Shire said. “I won Big 12 Gymnast of the Week, but I didn’t win that alone. I think Mary’s one of those key forces in the gym that’s pushing me every day. I think she stepped up. She doesn’t want to be in the shadows. She doesn’t want to be behind anybody. If she pushes me, I get better, and if I push her, she gets better. It’s a very friendly competition and rivalry.”
But both gymnasts said there main focus remains the team’s improvement.
“We have so much potential,” Burke said. “We’re doing great, and you see how much we can still improve throughout the year.”