COLUMBIA — Sarah Shire is making sure to stay focused.
It’s a word she uses over and over again. Through a senior season that has brought her six Big 12 Gymnast of the Week Awards, several Missouri records and a rise to No. 1 in the rankings, Shire has made it clear that while she is honored by such recognition, she prefers to stay focused on the upcoming meet.
When the latest edition of the rankings came out March 15, it was the first time a Missouri gymnast had earned that title. Certainly that can break her focus, can’t it?
“I’m trying to keep it up this weekend," Shire said, "so that next weekend people still think I’m as good as I am today.”
Nice try, GymInfo National Rankings.
Shire has come a long way from her first days at Missouri. After transferring from Utah, Shire started her career with the Tigers as a sophomore. If you had told her then that she’d be ranked No. 1 as a senior, she wouldn’t have believed you.
“No way,” she said. “I would’ve never believed it. When I first got here, I didn’t even think I’d do the all-around. You look from where I started my sophomore year, and it’s huge. I don’t think I would’ve believed it last year. I don’t think I would’ve believed it at the beginning of this season. It’s something that’s very new for me.”
What’s not new for Shire is giving a lot of credit to those around her, be they her teammates, coaches, or parents.
“Obviously there’s always expectations that creep in your head, but I’ve done a good job trying to keep those out of the way,” she said. “Leaning on my team and my coaches to help me focus on what’s really important.”
Shire’s teammates share her practice of not making awards and rankings priorities. They see her as a role model, but also as another one of the girls.
“I know Sarah’s really good,” senior Becky Scholle said. “But, I never realized that she is No. 1. So, when I saw that she was ranked No. 1, it was like a shock to me. I feel like she’s normal like we are.”
Shire said that her father has become even more encouraging after her rise to the top of the national rankings.
“I think now he feels this need, that he does really need to remind me that he’s proud of me," Shire said. " That he’s proud of me, he’s happy for me, and he loves me more than ever.”
Shire has received a lot of congratulations from everyone she knows, but she emphasizes that she does not want to get “a big head.” That being said, she has no plans to relinquish the No. 1 ranking.
“Now that I am first, I want to keep it up,” she said. “I don’t want anyone to take that from me.”
Shire’s first meet as the country’s top gymnast will come today, when the Tigers host Centenary in the team’s final regular season meet at 2 p.m. at the Hearnes Center.
As her college career comes to a close, Shire’s to-do list is still lengthy. Postseason competition starts with the Big 12 Championship meet March 27 in Lincoln, Neb. Shire graduates in December, after which she hopes to attend graduate school.