To topple the higher-ranked University of Denver Pioneers on Friday, the Missouri gymnastics team had to have a special night. Doubt reigned, though, when senior Mary Burke mounted the balance beam, stumbled and had to restart. Although she nailed the rest of her routine, the Tigers' chances of winning suddenly looked quite a bit bleaker.
But on the floor exercise, Burke refocused, rebounded and delivered a stellar 9.900 point performance, her best of the season in the discipline to help catapult the Tigers to victory.
This sort of poise is typical of an experienced, accomplished athlete, the perfect description of Burke.
"Whatever is best for the team is whatever Mary is going to do," coach Rob Drass said. "She's one of those coach's dream kind of kids that you just love going in and working with every day."
The Inverness, Ill., native has been a standout for the Tigers her entire career. In Burke's freshman year, she tied a team NCAA Regional record with a score of 9.900 on the uneven bars and made the all-Big 12 Conference Championship Team with a score of 9.850 on the vault.
During her sophomore season, Burke set a Missouri record in the floor exercise with a score of 9.975 and went on to be named all-Big 12 in the all-around.
Burke's junior season was her best yet. She was named Big 12 gymnast of the week four times, won the Big 12 all-around championship and finished second on the uneven bars at the same tournament.
Burke has seen the whole spectrum of team sports, evolving from a highly touted freshman to an undoubted team leader her senior year.
"I think that, coming in as a freshman, (everything) was kind of new to me, but being a senior now, I try to be the leader of the team and try to help out all the freshmen and younger girls as well as I can," she said.
Freshman sensation Rachel Updike, who won three events at the meet against Denver, spoke highly of Burke's influence.
"Mary and Allie (Heizelman, the Tigers' other senior) are amazing team leaders," Updike said. "They know exactly what to tell you whenever you're down and how to pump you up."
Burke has been just as successful in academics as gymnastics. She has earned Academic all-Big 12 honors the past two seasons and was named Scholastic All-American by the National Association of Collegiate Gymnastics Coaches/Women.
"I put a lot of work into my schoolwork," she said. "I think it's really important to me to do well in the classroom as well as the gym. It's really hard to balance both gym and school, but there's a lot of people around me who help me out."
After graduation, Burke said she hopes to enter the physical therapy field and possibly work with gymnasts. She also said she wants to end her senior season, one in which she has already been named Big 12 gymnast of the week, with the same gusto she has shown throughout her time at Missouri.
"In my senior year, I just want to go out, have the best season I can and contribute anywhere I can," she said.