It wasn’t the start Missouri gymnastics coach Rob Drass expected.
After finishing 2003 third in the Big 12 Conference, the highest league ranking in school history, the Tigers were set for another unprecedented season.
The Tigers fell short of Iowa State 196.5-195.35 in Sunday’s season-opening match, but Drass said they are on the right track.
“We thought we had it all taken care of coming in,” he said.
MU’s total marked its highest opening score and topped its score from last year’s by three points.
The Tigers started last season beating the Cyclones for their first Big 12 win.
“A lot of people were thinking that we need to beat Iowa State because we did last year twice,” sophomore Lauren Schwartzman said. “Some people went into it with the wrong attitude when we should have been thinking about hitting the routines that we can do.”
Despite the loss, two Tigers’ milestones also surprised Drass.
At 4-feet-10, Schwartzman is the smallest member of the team.
Her perfect performance on the balance beam Sunday marked the biggest feat in the program’s 25-year history.
Schwartzman scored a 10 on the beam, topping the record of 9.925 she set at the Cat Classic on Feb. 7. It was the first 10 a Tiger earned in any event.
Although Schwartzman said she knew her routine was solid, she didn’t expect a perfect score when she landed a clean dismount.
“I actually didn’t really believe that it happened,” she said. “When everyone turned around and started screaming at me, I was kind of confused as to what was happening. It was kind of surreal, like a dream come true.”
Schwartzman said her achievement wouldn’t seem real until she talks to her parents.
“I know when I call my mom she’s going to start crying,” she said. “So that’s when it will probably sink it, but I can’t let it get to me because we’ve still got a lot of meets ahead.”
After the first meet, Drass expects more 10s will pop up.
“Now that we’re at a level where some of those great things and exciting things can happen, you can see 10s and perfect routines,” Drass said. “Bunny’s got more in her and so do a couple of other gymnasts in other events.”
Schwartzman capped her record-setting meet with a second-place score of 9.925 on floor exercise. She also tied for fifth with a 9.825 on vault.
Schwartzman’s potential pushes this team closer to the national championship every season, Drass said. “I think you’ve got an All-American there sitting in your midst,” he said.
After watching last year’s season-opener from the bench, redshirt freshman Kelley Anderson wasn’t expecting her second-place all-around finish. After tearing her right Achilles tendon in the 2002 Black and Gold scrimmage, she was glad to compete again.
“It was really exciting for me to finally get out there and not watch and contribute,” she said. “It does really help to know that I’m up there able to compete with every body.”
She scored a 39.3 and topped Missouri’s most notable all-around competitor, All-American Alisha Robinson, by almost two points. After costly two costly falls on the uneven bars, Robinson placed fourth with a 38.225.
Andersen’s positive outlook paid off Sunday, Drass said.
“Kelley just brings back the love of gymnastics to the sport,” he said. “She sat a whole year and watched. It was very hard for her, but it was a good learning experienced for her.”
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The Tigers soared through their first event, scoring a 49.175 on vault.
On the next rotation, a shaky series of routines on the bars injured their chances of a win. The Tigers scored a 47.725 on bars.
Robinson slipped twice and scored an 8.650. Lauren Owca (9.150) and Jodie Heinicka (9.025) also were docked for falls.
“I really think bars was more of a fluke today, but we’re going to address it,” Drass said. “That’s at the top of my priority to get thing straightened out because this team is a great team. Great teams don’t self-destruct on an even like that.
“Bars is probably one of our best events. To see that happen just tells me that we’re still young and just trying to come together.”
Drass said the team will fix its struggles on the uneven bars when it learns to hand its depth. With 18 gymnasts, including 10 all-around competitors, Drass said the Tigers are learning which lineup is best.
The Tigers bounced back, scoring 49.125 on the balanced beam and 49.325 on floor.
“We did well on every thing, but there were mistakes on every event, not just bars,” Schwartzman. “Through out the year, we’ll have mistakes everywhere. It’s hard to be a perfect team all the time.”