COLUMBIA — For many Missouri gymnasts, the first meet of the season Sunday at Hearnes Center was also the first time competing at the college level. This year's Tigers have six freshmen and five sophomores on the 16-member roster.
Despite their inexperience, the Tigers beat Iowa State 192.675 to 192.600 with several contributions from the newcomers.
Missouri senior Mary Burke placed second in all-around with a 38.625, just behind Iowa State senior Michelle Browning, who won with a 39.025. But just as impressive was sophomore Katelyn Trevino's personal best 37.925 in the all-around, good enough for fourth place.
“It’s a very young team,” said associate head coach John Figueroa, who pointed out that freshmen must adjust to competing in an arena surrounded by a real crowd, rather than just “mom or grandma.”
Figueroa said he has been trying to prepare the new team members against stage fright.
“We’ll play crowd music with different universities’ fight songs as loud as we can, or we do it dead silent where there’s nothing going on,” he said. That helps the new team members cope with college competitions, marked by distracting noise at one extreme, and nothing but the sound of their own heartbeat and breathing at the other.
Missouri freshmen Rachel Updike showed she has been adjusting well. Updike won the vault Sunday with an impressive 9.90 and also claimed the title on the balance beam with a personal-best 9.85.
Updike said she enjoys the supportive environment that comes with being part of the team.
“In club (sports) your focus is about yourself. But on a team, if someone makes a mistake, we all bring it back to positive,” she said.
Sunday was also the first collegiate competition for new Tigers assistant coach Jennifer Green. She said the meet, which included some falls and stumbles from the Tigers, was not the same performance she saw during practice, but it was a good way to start the season.
“They made mistakes but didn’t fall apart," she said. "We’ll grow from there.”
Missouri head coach Rob Drass also said it wasn't the smoothest performance he had seen.
“I would call it an ugly win,” Drass said. “In the first meet of the season you shake the cobwebs out of your head and get used to competing again.”
Updike said the Tigers have to trust their talent.
“We know we can recover from those mistakes," she said, "not dwell on them.”