Cat Classic could vault MU into elite company

Friday, February 25, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 7:21 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 7, 2008

A milestone event will take place at Hearnes Center tonight and Saturday.

Missouri’s gymnasts will host the 25th annual Cat Classic, the premier invitational meet in the nation, this weekend at Hearnes Center. The meet’s setup is what makes it such a special event.

In normal invitationals, more than two teams compete for all-around, team, and individual apparatus titles. They are held on a weekly basis across the country. Missouri’s Cat Classic is the only meet to run a finals round.

The team and all-around titles will be awarded tonight. The vault, bars, beam and floor titles will be determined Saturday. The 10 best performers from today and Saturday will compete for the individual title in each event. following the Olympic format.

Coach Rob Drass compared the weekend’s events to a three-ring circus.

“As a fan, it’s non-stop action,” he said. “You look over here, over there, you’re head’s going to be on a swivel.”

One team will start on each event and rotate as the competition progresses.

The meet can bolster Missouri’s chances for an NCAA regional bid. Good meet scores the rest of the year are even more imperative because of the Tigers’ slow start. According to Drass, a strong performance this weekend could move the No. 24 Tigers into the top 10, where he said he thinks MU belongs.

The Tigers’ recent campaign to save their season has moved them up seven spots in the national rankings. They defeated Illinois on Feb. 11, took second at an invitational hosted by No. 7 Oklahoma., and haven’t counted a fall since the Penn State Invitational on Feb. 5.

“We have a lot of momentum right now and have recently started to pick it up this year,” freshman Ashley Khederian said. “I’m really excited because it’s our biggest meet. Our team always does really well at this meet and we’re going after a good team score.”

Drass said this year’s team is one of the best, if not the best, Missouri has had, and now that early struggles have been resolved they can “just go out there and start knocking people’s socks off.”

The Tigers showed their maturity last Sunday when sophomore Kelley Andersen was injured and had to be pulled from the Oklahoma meet. Freshman Katie Kluga and sophomore Amanda Pezzullo had to fill in with little warning or warm-up.

“That kind of adversity can throw any team through a loop and these guys handled it like veterans and came out strong,” Drass said.

The Tigers are also out to avenge a loss to New Hampshire earlier this year at the Penn State Invitational.

“They didn’t see us at our best and we want to make sure they do see us at our best this weekend,” Drass said.

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