Finding their rhythm

Montuori helps MU gymnasts succeed
Wednesday, March 2, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 8:30 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Kira Montuori loves gymnastics. She has passion, intensity and hope for its future.

As an assistant coach in her fifth season at Missouri, she uses her many strengths to help the athletes she is close to and the sport she wants to see succeed.

As she approaches the gymnastics area in Hearnes Center’s field house, she walks cautiously as if she were anxious to have to talk about herself.

Bottom line: “I’m someone who is constantly trying to be better, very results-driven,” Montuori said. “But I’m not really good at self-assessment I guess.”

She may not like to tout her accomplishments and strengths, but the people surrounding her have no problem doing so.

Talking about coaching at MU puts a smile on her face, and the look in her eyes convey the happiness the sport brings to her.

Head coach Rob Drass describes Montuori as an invaluable asset to the team.

“She has great moral character, a great attitude, great team chemistry, great work ethic,” he said. “Those are things you can’t put a value on.

“I trust her opinion greatly, and I know that if she disagrees with an idea that I have, than I should really rethink what I was thinking about doing,” Drass said. “She’s immeasurable in that respect and irreplaceable with what she adds to the team chemistry and to the team as a whole.”

Showing some attitude

Montuori’s main role on the team is coaching the floor exercise and beam. She choreographs the routines for every athlete who performs on one or both of the apparatuses.

Each athlete has her own routine. The gymnast selects music that she wants to perform to. The routines are generally used by each athlete for two seasons.

“I tell them, ‘You have input, but not decision,’ as far as what music we use,” Montuori said.

“Once you get the music, she just plays it a few times and, I don’t know how she does it,” junior Lauren “Bunny” Schwartzman said, “but it just seems like it comes to her.”

After Montuori’s approval of the music, it’s time to work on the routine. Montuori spends a couple of hours in front of a mirror with the gymnast, playing around with different movements, dances and poses. The final product is something that fits the music, looks good and is comfortable for the gymnast.

“After all, I don’t have to do the routine. They’re the ones who have to get into it,” Montuori said.

Matching the attitude of a routine with the attitude of the performer can be difficult. Athletes who have a flashy, outgoing presence will want something that gives them to the chance to play up to the crowd. Facial expressions, shimmying, crowd-encouragement, body language and clapping aren’t for everyone.

Schwartzman’s floor routine is among the most crowd-involved on the team. Her sparkplug personality utilizes a fun 1970s mix. The music allows her to show her personality and bring-it-on attitude in the competition.

“If I were still a gymnast, I would want to perform Bunny’s routine,” Montuori says.

On the other hand, senior Alisha Robinson’s first three years on the floor exercise varied greatly from her current routine. Her old routine used much more dramatic music. She changed it because she wanted a routine that the crowd could get into.

Freshman Katie Kluga’s routine isn’t flashy but flows well with the music and choreography.

“Our floor routines don’t look the same as our teammates’, and our music doesn’t sound the same,” Schwartzman said. “That’s amazing because a lot of choreographers have the same moves and can’t vary from style to style. Kira’s really good going from pop to classical to rock to drums to a fight song.”

Montuori said doing the choreography for MU is the best part of her job.

“It’s just something that I love. I’ve always had a knack for learning and choreographing routines. It’s not anything special,” Montuori said.

With 12 athletes available to compete on the floor exercise and 13 on beam, Montuori not only choreographs each routine, she knows all of them.

“She can actually do all the girls’ routines as good as or probably better than they can in some cases. It’s a real gift,” Drass said.

To that charge, modesty strikes her again.

“It doesn’t seem remarkable to me,” she said, “it’s just something that I love and comes easy to me.”

The MU gymnasts have had great success with the routines Montuori has choreographed. The team’s floor routines set school records in 2002, 2003 and 2004, and Schwartzman’s beam routine was validated as among the best when she scored a perfect 10.0 in 2004. Montuori was also named South Central Regional Co-Assistant of the Year in 2004.

Driven on other levels

Montuori’s drive and hard work aren’t focused solely on gymnastics. After graduating from the University of Illinois-Chicago in 1996 with a communications degree, she entered the advertising business. Of course, she couldn’t get rid of her desire to keep gymnastics in her life. She worked evenings at a youth gymnastics club.

She says she was always confident she would want to get into coaching eventually. When her former college coach and mentor Peter Jansson recommended her to Drass, everything fell into place.

She had been looking for a graduate assistant position where she could pursue a master’s degree in journalism or a similar field. It just so happened that Missouri was looking for an assistant coach and had a great journalism school.

Now she’s been working on a broadcast journalism master’s degree for three years.

“With coaching full-time, it’s been really hard to get,” she says. “And as competitive and intense as the journalism program is, it’s been very difficult to do both. Because I take so much pride in my work here (as a coach), I’ve had to sometimes put school on the backburner to make sure that this part is done well.”

Montuori says that her aspiration to enter the media world stems from her love for gymnastics. She wants to use what she has learned in the academic environment to launch a new appreciation for the sport. Her degree, she hopes, will help her get the recognition that, in her mind, gymnastics deserves.

“I am very passionate about gymnastics and the growth of our sport at the collegiate level,” she said.

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