Missouri gymnastics team confident after win over Nebraska

Thursday, February 2, 2012 | 8:25 p.m. CST; updated 9:36 p.m. CST, Thursday, February 2, 2012
Missouri gymnastics head coach Rob Drass watches the team's match against the Denver Pioneers at Hearnes Center on Jan. 20. The team beat Nebraska on Saturday, giving the Tigers their first regular-season win against the Cornhuskers since 1995. The Tigers have a matchup Friday against North Carolina State.

COLUMBIA — Missouri gymnastics coach Rob Drass is no stranger to Lincoln, Neb. He coached there. He got his master's degree there. He met his wife there. 

But until last week, Drass had never coached the Missouri Tigers to a victory there. 

The 195.725-194.550 win on Saturday against the then-No. 4 Cornhuskers was the Tigers' first regular-season victory against Nebraska since 1995 and the first win at Nebraska for the program. 

For Drass, the win gives him bragging rights over Nebraska coach Dan Kendig, with whom he remains good friends.

"If we don't see each other for a while, I've always got that to go back to and say, 'yeah, but the last time, I got you,'" Drass said.

With conference realignment pulling the traditional rivals in different directions, Drass said the victory took on even more significance.

"As we are moving to the SEC and they move to the Big Ten, I don't know if we're going to see Nebraska every year," Drass said. "To kind of end with the win is definitely a good feeling." 

The win comes in a year where 12 of Missouri's 16 gymnasts are freshmen or sophomores. Senior Mary Burke said the younger Tigers gymnasts might have benefited from not feeling the weight of Missouri's history against Nebraska. 

"We are a young team, and a lot of girls don't know that Nebraska has been consistently ahead of us in the past," she said. "I think without that in their heads and going in with an all-or-nothing attitude really helped us."

Drass said he thinks the victory helps the team realize its potential.

"I think if there's any ingredient that was missing from this team, it was confidence," he said. "We got a lot of that ingredient now."

Although the No. 17 Tigers have won four consecutive dual meets to start the season, they won't be able to celebrate for long. No. 23 North Carolina State comes to Columbia for a matchup Friday night at Hearnes Center.

The meet will be another reunion for Drass. NC State head coach Mark Stevenson has mentored Drass since he was a gymnast at Penn State, and Wolfpack assistant coach Bob Starkell has competed with Drass since they were in youth gymnastics.

"The gymnastics community is very small sometimes, but those are two of the most longstanding relationships I have in the sport," Drass said. 

Next week, the team travels to Chicago for a meet against UCLA, Illinois and Boise State, all in the top 25, before a home meet against No. 5 Oklahoma. 

"We try to bring in great competition from one meet to the next," Drass said. "They know they have to rise to the challenge each and every week. It's a brutal schedule. It may be one of the toughest in the country." 

Drass said he hopes the team can execute the same way it did at Nebraska. 

"When they flinched, we were able to capitalize on that, and they broke down, and we continued to do well," he said. "I think it was a great lesson for us in the future, how to take out teams ahead of us." 

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