Missouri gymnastics: Culture, not scores define 2014 season

Thursday, April 10, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:46 a.m. CDT, Thursday, April 10, 2014

COLUMBIA — One weekend in October 2013, several months after narrowly missing out on NCAA Regionals, the Missouri gymnastics team met to establish standards, build chemistry and make a list of goals for the season.

That list was placed on a poster and transported back to the gymnastics training facility at the Tiger Performance Complex. It hung there for the entirety of the season, visible at every practice.

On the list of goals for 2014: qualify for regionals.

For the second straight year, the team failed to qualify.

Missouri junior Rebecca Johnson admits there were other goals on the list that were not completed. Even so, it was an important transitional year for Missouri gymnastics.

A complete overhaul of the coaching staff resulted in a new head coach and two new assistant coaches. Five freshmen were added to the roster and competed regularly. Johnson and two other juniors competed after missing all or most of last season due to injury.

"It was a foundational year," Johnson said. "There's a whole new system we have going now."

When asked to describe the season in one word, both Johnson and senior Mackenzie McGill used the word "building."

"We did a lot of work behind the scenes that a lot of people couldn’t see," Johnson said. "It wasn't reflected in the scores so much as it was reflected in the culture of the team."

Another product of the pre-season meeting that stuck with the team was the term "championship culture."

"It's a lifestyle, a culture we are trying to establish," McGill said. "Championship culture is about academics, social responsibility, carrying ourselves to a higher standard, representing Mizzou and our team," she added.

"Everything we did every day we wanted to represent as a champion," Missouri junior Rachel Updike said. "We will be competing against champions, and if we make that our everyday life that will help us get to that level."

Updike, Missouri's best gymnast for much of the season, called it a "roller coaster" year on a personal level.

The roller coaster started with bunions last summer, which prevented Updike from training for much of the offseason. She recovered before the start of the season and claimed 19 event titles in Missouri’s first eight meets.

One week after an outstanding meet in St. Charles against Lindenwood University and Air Force, a fall during warmups at LSU on Feb. 28 knocked her out of the next three meets with concussion-like symptoms.

She got back up and was cleared to compete in the SEC Championship, scoring a 9.900 on vault and earning All-SEC honors in the event.

Her season score on the vault earned her a spot at NCAA Regionals on the apparatus. Updike was the only Missouri gymnast to qualify. She tore her UCL the day before she was set to leave for the tournament.

Missouri will return with Updike and four other juniors, including fellow All-SEC gymnast Johnson, next year. Sasha Sander made the All-SEC Freshman team as well.

"(This season) we established team chemistry we've never had before," said McGill, the team’s only competing senior. "There's no doubt in my mind they will do great things because the leadership on this team will be amazing."

The gymnasts have already begun started training for next season.

"We were already back in the gym the Monday after the (SEC Championship)," Johnson said. "We don't want a break because we are ready for next year."

Last year's poster of goals has already been taken off the wall. An empty space now waits for next season.

"We don't want (this) season lingering," Johnson said. "We want to start fresh."

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