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Missouri gymnast progresses from walk-on to all-arounder

Tuesday, February 12, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CST
Missouri gymnast Laura Kappler performs her beam routine during the meet against LSU at the Hearnes Center on Friday.

COLUMBIA — When the Missouri gymnasts are announced at the Hearnes Center before their home meets, the scoreboard's video screen shows each Tiger spin around and smile at the camera.

While most just smile, sophomore Laura Kappler goes all out, swiveling her shoulders and bobbing her head as she dances toward the camera.

"That's her move," sophomore Rachel Updike said. "She's always making everyone laugh."

Kappler has her own reason to smile.

After joining the team as a walk-on, she focused on just the beam event last season. But Friday, she competed in the all-around for the first time in Missouri's meet against LSU.

"I wasn't expecting it, but I was training for it," Kappler said of her all-around performance. She was only going to compete in the first three events — the vault, uneven bars and beam — unless something went wrong on floor.

When freshman Miranda Eubank fell on her floor routine, Kappler knew she had to step up.

"It was sooner than expected," Kappler said.

On her last pass, Kappler also fell but ended up scoring a 9.175 on floor, bringing her first all-around score to 38.175.

Despite the fall, Tigers coach Rob Drass says he plans on keeping Kappler as an all-around performer for the rest of the season, especially with injuries creating gaps in the lineup.

Junior Katelyn Trevino and sophomores Briana Conkle and Rebecca Johnson are all injured this season.

"The injuries have been an opportunity for Kappler to gain confidence," Drass said. "She came in as a pretty raw gymnast with natural, innate ability. The trick was to teach her. Each day she's growing."

Kappler's teammates see growth as well. Although she never expected to compete on the uneven bars, she's now a top performer on that event, Updike said.

Teammates such as Updike, who lives with Kappler, also regularly see her "goofy" side. The two like playing with their new Pomeranian puppy, Moose. Updike says Moose loves Kappler's high-pitched voice.

"She's got that fun-loving, have-a-good-time attitude," Drass said. "Everyone wants to see her succeed because of it."

Kappler's next chance at success will come Friday when the Tigers compete at Kentucky. Not wanting to fall on the last pass again, Kappler changed her floor routine, reorganizing it so it better fits her strengths, she said. She practiced this routine among cheers from her teammates Monday.

This didn't stop her from being her usual goofy self, creating laughter throughout the room after her exaggerated dismount from the uneven bars.

"It's infectious," Drass said with a smile.


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