Gymnasts rev up for regionals

To get to nationals, No. 18 Tigers will have to upset a top 10 team.
Friday, April 13, 2007 | 1:43 a.m. CDT; updated 7:39 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Taped on the far wall of the gym, past the uneven bars caked with chalk, the piles of royal blue mats and the rows of sturdy balance beams, is a huge paper speedometer surrounded by speeding tickets.

Sophomore Alicia Hatcher will add to the collection of speeding tickets before the Missouri gymnastics team takes the floor in the NCAA West Regional on Saturday night. A two-week-old speeding ticket in her hand, Hatcher will stand before her teammates and try to use it to inspire the team.

“She’ll provide some insightful motivation,” coach Rob Drass said. “She’s going to write up some quotes and some things to help inspire the team and focus on some of the things we’ve talked about — whether it’s confidence with each other or just keeping our confidence level up or some of the things that are important in a longer meet.”

What speeding tickets have to do with a gymnastics meet may not be apparent to an outsider, but to the Missouri gymnasts it makes perfect sense.

After each meet, the coaching staff awards a speeding ticket to one gymnast who has performed exceptionally well. The gymnast is then responsible for coming up with an inspirational quote, story or anecdote to present to the team before the next competition. After the meet, the speeding ticket is taped to the gym wall with the others to serve as a reminder to the team for the rest of the season.

“We try to spread it around a little bit and just give out a speeding ticket to someone that excelled, that maybe for lack of a better word, went faster than anybody else,” Drass said.

The gymnasts are hoping they will reach maximum speed at the regional competition in Berkeley, Calif., where they have to place in the top two in a field of six teams to qualify for nationals.

That means the No. 18 Tigers will have to top either No. 6 Nebraska or No. 7 Utah to earn a place in the national championships in Salt Lake City.

Missouri will start the competition with a bye, followed by floor, vault and then another bye. The Tigers then will move to bars before finishing their night on beam.

“We’re going to be ending on beam, which is kind of like the most nerve-wracking event because you can fall so easily on it,” Hatcher said. “If we’re going to have any chance of qualifying to nationals, it’ll come down to beam, because if we are within striking distance of Utah or Nebraska it’ll come down to the last rotation.”

Not that either team will be easy to beat. Both squads have been fixtures at the national championships during the last decade, and Utah is coming off a second-place finish at last year’s championships.

But if there’s a factor that the gymnasts can look to for hope, it’s in the Utes’ uncharacteristically inconsistent 2007 season.

“I honestly think deep down we can beat Utah,” senior bars specialist Ali Gilmore said. “Nebraska’s a pretty solid team this year and Utah’s faltered a bit, and I definitely think that we can take them out. That would be a huge upset.”

If the upset does happen, the gymnasts will return to the gym to prepare for the national championships (April 26 to 28), where another gymnast will add her ticket to the wall.

But for now, the team’s sights are set on Berkeley and Hatcher’s speeding ticket. What she will say, however, is still a mystery — even to Hatcher.

“I’m not sure what I’m going to say,” Hatcher said. “I’ll probably say something about, ‘Don’t worry about where we finish up. We can get caught up in the standings and rankings and scores and everything, but we just need to go out there and focus on what we do, and if we hit and they don’t, then — then we’ll see.’”

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