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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Missouri gymnastics upsets No. 9 Arkansas

Unfamiliar faces willed the Tigers to a 196.100-195.450 victory Friday.

March 16, 2012

In Missouri’s meet Friday night, senior Mary Burke and freshman Rachel Updike were great.

Both competed in all events, and other than Updike’s shaky balance beam routine, every score they recorded was higher than 9.800.

But for the Tiger gymnastics team, that’s like saying the mats at the Hearnes Center are blue. It’s a given.

What really drove the Tigers to a 196.100-195.450 upset win over the No. 9 Arkansas Razorbacks on Friday were the lesser-known faces, the walk-ons and athletes that compete in only one event each.

Freshmen Rebecca Johnson, Colleen Mulcahy and Briana Conkle and sophomore Mackenzie McGill all contributed solid scores to provide crucial pieces to Missouri’s victory.

“Those girls stepped up when we needed,” Burke said. “Mackenzie’s beam routine was clutch tonight, and that’s exactly what we needed. They’ve been working so hard in the gym, and it’s good just to see those younger girls stepping up and getting into their role and contributing.”

Johnson's career-high 9.825 on vault helped the Tigers open a 0.675 lead on Arkansas after the first rotation. Mulcahy added a career-best 9.825 on bars to help Missouri preserve its lead going into the second half of the meet.

On the beam, Updike, normally a stalwart in the event, lost her balance and fell, despite twisting and turning acrobatically while attempting to remain on the apparatus.

But again, McGill minimized the damage with a career-high 9.800, Missouri’s second highest beam score only to Burke.

Though they lost the lead after the beam, the Tigers regained it for good on the floor. This time, Conkle was the one to provide the obligatory career-high, putting down a 9.875 to help give Missouri its best team floor score of the season.

The win was made doubly special by the fact that it coincided with the Tigers’ Senior Night. Burke, Allie Heizelman and former athlete and current student coach Tara Foster were honored. Heizelman summed up her four years at MU as "unexpected and amazing."

“I could not have asked for a better experience and I feel really, really blessed to be a Tiger and to be able to be at Mizzou competing,” she said.

The majority of the senior night festivities, including a commemorative video, took place after the meet concluded. Coach Rob Drass said that was all for the better.

“If we did the program first, I think the whole meet wouldn’t go well,” he said, laughing.

Missouri's next competition is the Big 12 Conference Championships on March 24 in Norman, Okla. The Tigers will now enter the postseason with momentum.

“(The win) definitely improves our confidence,” Burke said. “What you want is a good meet going in to the postseason, and that’s what we had tonight.”

Drass said he was confident knocking off a higher-ranked opponent like Arkansas would benefit the team later on.

“I think it means we can hang with anybody,” he said. “It’s going to take our best shot … but that’s why you compete, that’s why you have the game.”

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