Missouri gymnast Tori Howard prepares for final home meet

Thursday, March 7, 2013 | 7:58 p.m. CST
Missouri senior gymnast Tori Howard performs her routine against Georgia on Feb. 22 at the Hearnes Center.

COLUMBIA — Tori Howard wanted to go anywhere but Missouri.

That seems strange for someone who has competed for Missouri in all but one of the Tigers' gymnastics team's meets.

Friday's meet

The Tigers host Illinois at 6:30 p.m. Friday at the Hearnes Center.

Seniors Brittany Bendoff, Tori Howard and Sandra Ostad will be recognized at the meet for senior night. Junior Taylor Medra will also be recognized.

This meet follows Missouri's second-place finish in the Arkansas Quad Meet last Friday with a score of 194.300. The University of Arkansas won the meet with 196.525. Lindenwood University finished with 191.125 and Centenary College of Louisiana with 190.525.

Missouri has faced Illinois 27 times with an overall record of 18-9 in the series.

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"I grew up in Missouri, and I wanted to get out and go away," Howard said.

A graduate of Marquette High School in Chesterfield, Howardwanted to follow a different route than most of her classmates. Her mother, Margaret Howard, says about 70 percent of Marquette graduates end up at MU.

But then the Tigers' gymnastics program called, and Margaret Howard kept bringing up the school as an option to her daughter. Tori Howard had different ideas, though, and looked at places like Nebraska, Illinois and Southeast Missouri State.

"Finally I said, 'Let's just go look,'" Margaret Howard said. "When we were driving away, she said, 'Mom, this is where I want to go.'"

Part of what made the decision for Tori Howard was the cohesiveness of the team, a team even her mother described as "like family." As Tori Howard joined this family, she helped others transition as well — especially someone a lot further from home, fellow senior Sandra Ostad.

Coming to Missouri as a freshman all the way from Oslo, Norway, Ostad has lived with Tori Howard all four years of college.

"I was welcomed like no other," Ostad said.

Because of the welcome, Ostad's biggest transitional problem was something as simple as food, especially when she and Tori Howard lived in the dorms. Ostad likes food without "greasiness," which they now have more freedom to cook, she said.

Food may be a touchy subject for Tori Howard, though. She said the only meet she missed in her career — a meet against Centenary College of Louisiana her freshman year — was because of food poisoning.

"She still blames me for that," Margaret Howard said with a laugh. She had taken her daughter out for dinner at Outback Steakhouse the night before.

"We had a fabulous dinner," Margaret Howard said. "I honestly don't think it was the food."

Although that was the only meet Tori Howard has missed in her career, she hasn't let it get to her head, hardly remembering which meet she missed.

"I'm just doing my job," she said.

"She's pretty solidly done three events," Tigers coach Rob Drass said. "She's grown into a solid competitor."

And it's all she's ever wanted to do, Margaret Howard said of her daughter, who announced when she was only 7 or 8 years old that gymnastics was her "thing."

"I'm an adult and I don't have a thing!" Margaret Howard said.

The most emotional she ever got was when they announced Tori Howard's name for the first time at Missouri meet, Margaret Howard said with a catch in her voice.

And on Friday at the Hearnes Center, when the Tigers host Illinois for senior night, her name will be announced for the last time at the school where she never imagined herself.

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