It was a familiar scene for the Missouri gymnastics team on Friday night at Hearnes Center. Senior Whitney Crater, described as the team’s “voice,” cheered her teammates through their routines when she wasn’t wowing on vault and floor. Dependable senior Amanda Pezzullo, described as the team’s “rock,” hit solid routines without so much as a waver. And senior Ali Gilmore, the team’s “inspiration,” received the night’s loudest cheers when she hit her final bar routine in front of a home crowd.
The seniors’ chemistry proved effective on the team’s senior night. The Tigers defeated the Iowa Hawkeyes 195.425-192.875. Although coaches and gymnasts admitted to having a less than spectacular night, they suffered falls on vault, bars and beam and struggled slightly on floor – the Tigers were still able to tally their third-highest team score of the season.
“There’s always some emotion tied into senior night so it’s always an interesting meet,” coach Rob Drass said. “But I thought to be good and solid in an emotional meet just shows the maturity of the team. So I think we grew a little bit tonight.”
While the seniors played the roles they have carved for themselves the last four years, freshman Danielle Guider started to build her own reputation with three solid routines, two of which came after the gymnast in front of her fell.
“I think she’s maturing,” Drass said. “She’s not acting like a freshman anymore, although I still tell her she is sometimes. For the most part she’s starting to become the gymnast we want to see her become.”
Guider agrees with her coach’s assessment, saying that earlier in the season she would have been a little more hesitant competing right after two falls.
“I probably would have been a little bit more nervous because I would have felt I didn’t have enough experience, but I feel like competing this season has helped a lot and I feel more comfortable when I go out there,” Guider said. “I feel like I’m more in the swing of things. Sometimes I feel more like a freshman but now I feel more comfortable when I go out there and just helping my team.”
But the meet truly belonged to the seniors, with the competition capped off by a video featuring the three seniors’ collegiate careers.
“It was extremely emotional I think for all of us,” Gilmore said. “I know today a couple of times I started thinking about it and I got teary-eyed before I even got to the arena. And then when Amanda finished her floor routine and that was like the end of the seniors competing tonight, that was probably the most emotional part of the meet.”
“It’s pretty tough but it’s also really exciting to know that we made it through because we started out six strong and now there’s only three of us, so it was bittersweet,” said Crater, who tied her career high on vault with a 9.9. “I teared up but no tears rolled down my face. I refuse to cry. This is a glorious moment for me. To me it’s an achievement, it’s not a sad time for me. I don’t think my body could handle it any longer so I’m okay with it.”