COLUMBIA — Senior Mary Burke is surrounded by underclassman.
The 2012 version of the Missouri gymnastics team is dominated by youth, with 12 of the 16 gymnasts on the roster being freshman or sophomores.
And with so much youth, the Tigers have to rely on the veterans they have for leadership, especially from senior Mary Burke, who has been named to the All-Big 12 Gymnastics team the past two years.
If Friday night at Hearnes Center was any indicator, Burke is well on her way to a third straight All-Big 12 honor, as she propelled the Tigers to a 196.25-193.825 victory over Bowling Green.
“Mary is just an outstanding athlete,” head coach Rob Drass said. “Just when you think you have seen her best, she just turns it up one more notch.”
Burke, who is the only Tiger to compete in all four rotations for the Tigers, was in the zone all night, putting up high score after high score, stuck landing after stuck landing, on her way to winning the all around title with a score of 39.475.
That score sets a career high for Burke in the all-around.
“Mary is amazing,” Updike said of Burke’s leadership. “In the gym, I think having her there just makes us all motivated to do well and to do better every day.”
Burke’s leadership was visible on the floor of Hearnes Center all match, encouraging each of her teammates during their routines and racing to meet them in congratulations after their conclusion.
During Taylor Medrea’s floor routine, Burke stood huddled next to Medrea with her hands on her knees, screaming encouragement as Medrea stood in the corner of the mat, preparing to take off down the floor for her final tumbling pass. Burke embraces the role of being a leader on the floor.
“Being a leader is a role I want to be in,” Burke said. “I want to help them and teach them as much as I can this year so they can just continue to grow.”
However, there was plenty of encouragement from both teammates and fans during Burke’s performances as well.
After Burke’s balance beam routine, several fans seated next to the apparatus began bowing in awe of her performance, which began with a front flip off a springboard, stuck flawlessly onto the four-inch-wide beam.
Burke’s leadership is not just limited to competition. The Tigers have become a tight-knit group off the floor as well, leading to a laid back atmosphere when the Tigers do compete.
“Wherever we go we are always together,” Updike said of the camaraderie the team experiences outside of the gym.
Burke thinks that this is the closest team she has ever been a part of.
“They are my best friends,” Burke said. “Having that, in the gym and out of the gym, has really helped us just come together as a team and improve on our performances and trust each other.”
As the season winds down and Burke gets ready to finish her career as a collegiate gymnast, she hopes to leave the team with the confidence they need to continue their success without her.
“Just to have them have that confidence in themselves, and just keep putting that in their heads,” Burke said. “Gymnastics is so mental.”