Pre-meet rituals help Missouri gymnasts prepare for competition

Friday, February 22, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CST

COLUMBIA — For the Missouri gymnastics team, preparing for meets goes beyond time in the gym.

Before home meets, like the one against the No. 8 Georgia Bulldogs on Friday, you'll most likely find sophomores Rachel Updike and Laura Kappler enjoying a pre-meet meal at McAlister's Deli with their parents.

Friday's meet

The Tigers will host the No. 8 Georgia Bulldogs at 6:30 p.m. Friday at the Hearnes Center.

The meet follows Missouri's close contest with the Kentucky Wildcats last Friday, which they lost 194.250-194.125. Freshman Miranda Eubank earned her first event title on the uneven bars at the meet with a career-high score of 9.900. Sophomore Rachel Updike won the vault title with her 9.875 score, and junior Taylor Medrea scored a career-high of 9.850 on the bars.

Missouri has faced Georgia six times, going 1-5 in the series.

The first 1,000 fans to arrive at the Hearnes Center on Friday will receive a free LED foam light-up wand.

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"It gets us in the mood for competition," Updike said. "It's like our ritual."

She and Kappler started the tradition last year, eating at Which Wich Superior Sandwiches before every home meet. This year, they've switched to McAlister's, which is closer to the teammates' apartment at The Grove, Updike said.

"Last time, I got the sweet chipotle chicken," Updike said with a laugh. "I'll probably get it again. It was really good!"

Sandwiches seem to be the typical pre-meet meal. Junior Mackenzie McGill usually eats Subway for lunch the day of meets, she said. When the team travels, they often order McAlister's or Panera Bread, Updike said.

As the meet gets closer, the team gathers to continue their traditions.

"We always get together an hour before the meet," McGill said. They apply temporary tattoos and glitter to prepare for their performances, she said.

"Tori and Laura are the glitter queens," Updike said, noting how Kappler and senior Tori Howard enjoy this ritual.

During the meet, the Tigers have three cheers to pump them up — one for the vault, the bars and the floor, McGill said.

"We try to stay calm for the beam," she said. To prepare for this event, McGill listens to her "beam song," "Home" by Phillip Phillips, before the meet, she said.

The traditions help create an identity for the team, Missouri coach Rob Drass said.

"The closeness of the team is really important," he said. "Each year, the team reinvents itself and identifies with certain things."

These things can be as simple as a meal at McAlister's, where Updike said she will be, as usual, with her mom before Friday's meet.

"She missed one last year," Updike said of her mom. "And she's like, 'We're never doing that (not going) again.'"

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