Missouri did its best to produce a storybook event Friday night at Hearnes Center.
The first annual Beauty and the Beast meet, which paired a wrestling match with a gymnastics meet, ended well for the Tigers, with the home team winning both events.
Holding a red flower, each gymnast was escorted onto the arena floor by a wrestler amid a cloud of smoke in front of a crowd of 6,197, which set season attendance highs for both sports.
“It was a great meet,” Missouri gymnastics coach Rob Drass said. “We got two Missouri wins and we got 6,000 people to watch both these teams.”
The gymnasts said the large and noisy crowd, which saw Missouri beat Southeast Missouri State 194.775-192.700, was a welcome addition to the meet.
“We’d be doing routines where it’s normally quiet and they’d have a take down or a pin and it would get really, really loud,” Missouri junior Ashley Khederian said. “I remember right before we started bars it got so loud. I mean it was a little bit distracting, but it was cool. It doesn’t matter why it gets loud, as long as it gets loud. It was definitely more beneficial than detrimental.”
The Missouri gymnasts started vault competition just as the first wrestling match of the night began.
MU sophomore Adrianne Perry anchored the vault, scoring a career-best 9.95.
The Tigers continued their night on the uneven bars, where they earned the top five scores and posted their highest combined bars score of the year.
But the gymnasts struggled on the beam. With two falls and a few other shaky routines, the Tigers counted their lowest event score of the meet on the beam, an event that has tormented them all season.
“Beam, we just have some confidence problems there,” Drass said. “It’s a funk. It’s not really a performance issue. There’s no magic formula, nothing that’s going to make it happen. It’s like a shooter in a slump. Once they hit that one basket, all of a sudden they’re feeling good, they’re confident again. We just need to hit beam one time and we’ll be there.”
By the time the Tigers’ gymnasts got to their final event, the floor exercise, the wrestling match was over. And with all eyes looking in their direction, they didn’t disappoint, gaining the top four places on the event with Perry winning for the third time.
Perry scored a career high in the all-around. Her 39.500 was the fifth best all-time score for a Missouri gymnast, as well as the exact score she had set for herself as a goal.
“I’m very happy with my all-around score,” Perry said. “That was my goal and it felt really good.”
While the gymnasts performed, the No. 2 Missouri wrestling team cruised past overmatched Northern Iowa 36-13.
It took the Tigers (11-1) only an hour to dispatch the Panthers (5-9-1). Just eight matches were contested with each team forfeiting a match. Ten of Northern Iowa’s 13 points came from weight classes where Missouri was without its starters.
The Tigers forfeited the match at 165 pounds to rest Matt Pell, who has one of the biggest matches in Missouri’s dual against No. 3 Iowa State at 2 p.m. today at Hearnes Center. Tim Kephart, filling in for Tyler McCormick, who was ill, dropped an 18-8 decision to the Panthers’ Kyle Anson at 133 pounds. Northern Iowa’s Moza Fay, ranked 17th at 157 pounds, handed the Tigers their only other loss of the night with a 6-2 win over Nick Marable.
Without Pell and McCormick, both ranked in the top seven in the country, and with Northern Iowa’s top wrestlers C.J. Ettelson (No. 9 at 141 pounds) and Nick Baima (No. 5 at 165 pounds) also not competing, the dual lost much of its luster.
The crowd rose to its feet on a few occasions, though. Tigers’ 141-pounder Ashton Primus had the most impressive victory of the night, pinning Mike Whisler in just 26 seconds. Primus had lost his past five matches, and Missouri coach Brian Smith said it was important for him to do well.
“It was good to see Ashton Primus get back on track,” he said. “I was glad to see that.”
The Tigers also got pins from top-ranked Ben Askren at 174 pounds and Maxwell Askren at 197 pounds.
Smith said he hopes all the distractions around his team Friday would help to prepare them for the National Championships in March, when several mats will be set up and many matches will be going on at once.
Still, Smith said he wasn’t comfortable with the setup of the Beauty and the Beast event.
“Honestly, I didn’t really like it,” he said. “But, it’s good for the fans and the community”.