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Columbia Missourian

Burke leads Missouri gymnasts into NCAA regionals

By Colin Gambaro
April 5, 2012 | 8:15 p.m. CDT
Mary Burke, the only nationally ranked gymnast for the Tigers, competes at a recent meet. MU will face three nationally ranked teams in the Big 12 Championship: No. 4 Oklahoma, No. 11 Nebraska and No. 20 Iowa State.

COLUMBIA — Missouri gymnast Mary Burke remembers the joyous feeling of earning a spot in the NCAA National Championship. She also knows the agonizing feeling of coming up just short. 

Former Missouri gymnast Sarah Shire will never forget sharing that moment of agony with Mary Burke after Missouri finished third in the 2009 Northeastern Regional in Tuscaloosa, Ala., just one spot away from qualifying for the school’s first ever NCAA National Championship.

Up Next

NCAA  Regional Championships

WHEN: 4 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: Fayetteville, Ark.

The top two teams advance to the NCAA National Championships in Duluth, Ga.

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Shire, a junior at the time, remembers seeing Burke, then a freshman, crying in the locker room. For Shire, it was an unusual moment; she had never seen the usually vibrant and upbeat Burke cry.

As a team leader, Shire took it upon herself to console Burke. What ensued was what Shire describes as the closest moment the two have ever shared.

“I went up to her, and I told her to remember that feeling and to remember what it feels like to be so close and to have it slip away,” Shire said. “I think that has really fueled her since then.”

That moment fueled not only Shire and Burke but the whole Missouri gymnastics team. A year later, the Tigers won the South Central Regional at Hearnes Center and advanced to the NCAA National Championships for the first time. 

Shire, who is now the director of operations for the gymnastics team, hopes Burke remembers the advice she gave Burke in 2009 when the Tigers compete on Saturday in this season's South Central Regional in Fayetteville, Ark.

For Burke, now a senior, Saturday might be the last meet of her gymnastics career, unless the Tigers advance to the National Championship.

Burke has been the Tigers' leader in and out of the gym this season, something she has come to embrace.

“Coming in as a freshman, I did compete in the all around, but I don’t think I was as much involved with the team and the girls and everything like that,” Burke said.  “I think my role has changed a lot just in being a leader on the team now and being someone that is vocal and helps the team out.”

Burke credits a lot of her leadership skills to Shire as well as former Missouri gymnast Adrianne Perry.

“As a freshman coming in, I can look to and see how they handle situations and see how they address the team and everything like that,” Burke said. “It really helped me to learn when I came into those situations what to do and how to do it.”

Burke has also led by example in competition, putting together a stellar senior season, finishing the regular season ranked 12th in the nation in all-around competition.  On March 24 at the Big 12 Conference Championships, Burke was named the Big 12 Gymnast of the year. Burke is the second Tiger to win the award, the other being Shire.

In 2010, Shire won the all-around at regionals to lead her team to the National Championship.

For the Tigers to extend their season another week, Burke will have to exhibit that same kind of leadership, using the success and consistency she has had in competition all season. 

Shire said thinks another key to success on Saturday is for the Tigers to be loose and have fun, remembering the atmosphere the team had in 2010 going into regionals.

“Everything revolving around that day had to do with us being in a good mood as a team,” Shire said. 

For Burke, having fun is exactly what she is looking forward to on Saturday, regardless of whether the Tigers advance to the National Championship.  

“Hopefully we can make it to nationals, and we can have one more meet," Burke said. "But if not, I just want to go out on a high note and hit my routines and just be a leader for this team and have a fun time.”