Missouri gymnastics faces uphill battle at Auburn

Thursday, March 6, 2014 | 8:02 p.m. CST; updated 10:13 p.m. CST, Thursday, March 6, 2014
Anna Bowers completes her floor routine in a gymnastics meet against Kentucky at the Hearnes Center on Jan. 24.

*This story has been updated to include more context of the conversation between Anna Bowers and coach Shannon Welker.

COLUMBIA — At its last practice of the week before its meet at No. 11 Auburn, the Missouri gymnastics team participated Wednesday in an intrasquad meet — a simulation of an actual meet, where gymnasts go through their entire routines and coaches act as judges.

After practicing on the uneven bars and the vault, the team moved on to the floor exercise, where it has leaned on freshman Anna Bowers throughout the season. Her NCAA Regional qualifying average score of 9.785 leads the team in the event.

*Bowers took a couple of practice runs on the floor but did not attempt her full routine. After Wednesday's practice, coach Shannon Welker pulled Bowers aside for a conversation. Welker informed Bowers that she was out of the team’s preliminary lineup for the Auburn meet because she hadn't gone through her full routine in practice.

On Wednesday, Welker was vague on why Bowers was pulled, citing “personal issues." Bowers said Thursday she had been pulled from the preliminary lineup because she was having problems with her ankles.

"The main reason Anna is being held out of the lineup is because of an ankle injury," Missouri spokesman Andy Oldenburg said Thursday. "It is a minor injury, which means she may sub into the lineup on game day if another gymnast becomes injured or performs poorly in warm-ups."

Without her, Missouri could find itself in a tough spot on the floor at Auburn.

The Tigers are already preparing to compete without their best gymnast, junior Rachel Updike. Updike, a frequent starter on the floor, fell during warm-ups in last week’s meet at No. 1 LSU and could miss this week’s meet if she tests positive for concussion symptoms.

To make matters more complicated, Missouri is precariously close to the cutoff for NCAA Regionals at the moment. Only the top 36 teams around the country qualify; Missouri ranks 34th, down from its ranking of 32nd last week.

“We are taking it one meet at a time,” Welker said Wednesday. “We are doing our best to maintain and improve our position (in the rankings), but where we rank has no effect on how we compete.”

Last year, Missouri’s rank of 43rd resulted in the team being left out of NCAA Regionals. A run of good form through February, which boosted the team’s record from 0-3 to 6-4 before a loss in March, has the Tigers in the hunt to qualify in 2014.

But one bad meet — or individual routine — could be the difference between competing in the postseason and watching at home. The margin between Missouri and 37th-ranked Pittsburgh is a razor-thin 0.255.

“As long as we go out there and do our job, we should be able to qualify,” Bowers said Thursday. 

As for the team’s approach, Bowers said it is important for the Tigers to keep NCAA Regionals — and injury distractions — out of their minds.

“We just focus on our team,” Bowers said. “We say to ourselves, ‘Do what we know we can do, and the outcome will speak for itself.’”

Supervising editor is Sean Morrison and Erik Hall.

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