DULUTH, GA. — Rob Drass knew Rachel Updike would contribute to the Missouri gymnastics team this season.
However, what the Tigers head coach didn’t know was how special Updike’s season would be.
Updike, a freshman from Olathe, Kan., set a Big 12 Conference record by winning nine Big 12 Gymnastics Newcomer of the Week awards and at the end of the regular season was named to the All-Big 12 Gymnastics Team on vault and floor exercise.
At the NCAA regional competition Tuesday in Fayetteville, Ark., Updike advanced as an individual to the NCAA national championships in Duluth, Ga., which will start on Friday. With a sixth-place finish, Updike earned the final berth in the all-around competition, making her the eighth gymnast from the Missouri program to qualify for the championships as an individual.
“Coming in, I thought she would deliver some of the routines she has delivered throughout the season,” Drass said. “However, I didn’t know how much consistency she would be able to do it with, and she has just been automatic.”
Drass said it usually takes a gymnast a year or two to become consistent in collegiate competition. Updike, however, wasted little time showing her coach what she could do. In the first meet of the season against Iowa State, Updike won the vault, balance beam and floor exercise posting a 9.85 or better on all three of the events.
From there, Updike never slowed down, gaining the confidence of her teammates and the Tigers' coaching staff. Drass rewarded Updike’s performance by promoting her to the all-around competition by the end of the season.
Drass said that as the season progressed, Updike began to become a leader on the team with her performances in the gym and during meets.
“I think naturally the athletes who are doing more on the team are looked to as natural leaders,” Drass said. “As Rachel has come from a three-event specialist to and all-arounder, there is more and more focus on her and with that comes a leadership role.”
However, Drass hopes Updike’s experience this weekend at the national championships will help her take her leadership role to the next level next season.
“Having been here as an individual, I hope that will refuel her to be here with her team next year,” Drass said. “She will know the kinds of skills and the things we need to do by watching the teams that are here to help get our team here next year.”
As for Updike’s performance this weekend, Drass is eager to see how she stacks up against the best collegiate gymnasts in the country.
“We’d like to go out and hit all four events,” Drass said. “If she does that, we may come home with an honor or two.”
No matter the results, though, Drass said next season holds even more promise if Updike can establish herself as a leader.
“The only way she gets that role is by being consistent,” Drass said. “With her consistency comes the team's confidence and with the team’s confidence comes better performances from everybody.”