As she walks off after competing her floor exercise routine Friday night, senior gymnast Tori Howard will have mixed emotions.
She will be proud of her performance and the fact she has perfected her routine by competing on floor for the past four years. But she will also have a tinge of sadness, knowing it will be the last time she performs at the Hearnes Center.
Howard, fellow senior gymnast Sandra Ostad and student coach Brittany Bendoff will be honored at the close of Friday’s meet as part of Missouri gymnastics’ Senior Night. Compilation videos will show each gymnast’s journey as a member of the team.
Howard is preparing for an emotional night.
“There will be a lot of tears,” she says. “That’s probably why they do the video at the end of the meet and not the beginning.”
Four years ago, the three gymnasts practiced for the first time as Tigers. They were all terrified and nervous, especially Ostad, who had to deal with a language barrier to practice.
Ostad came all the way from Oslo, Norway. At her first practice, she did not talk much to anyone and simply followed along with what everyone else was doing. She said she had trouble learning the English names for skills. The unavoidable miscommunications between her and her coaches led to mistakes in her performance.
“We have different terms in Norway,” she said. “I had to get used to the English terms. That led to some confusion and problems on the first day of practice.”
Coach Rob Drass, who has coached the seniors during their entire MU careers, said it is really rewarding to watch girls grow from timid freshmen to senior leaders of the team.
“Sometimes its feels like (their first practice was) yesterday, and sometimes it feels like so long ago,” he said.
For the past four years, Missouri gymnastics has made an appearance at the NCAA Regionals every season and went to the NCAA Championships in 2010. But Howard and Ostad believe their greatest accomplishments have been in sharpening and perfecting their own gymnastic skills.
“Over the past four years, my gymnastics has become a lot more consistent and cleaner,” Howard said.
Bendoff has unfortunately missed the past two seasons due to serious injuries, but Drass said she has an undying love for the sport and continues to contribute to the team through her student coach position.
Drass said he and the coaching team hope that these seniors, and all the gymnasts on the Missouri team, take the lessons they’ve learned in practice and apply them to other parts of their lives.
“Good values, morals and work ethic are instilled in (the seniors), and they pass them on to the younger gymnasts every year,” Drass said.
Looking into the future, Howard plans on attending graduate school at MU to earn her masters in business administration. Ostad, who is graduating in December, is debating whether to return home to Norway or attend graduate school at MU as well.
Howard said she will try to stick around as long as possible.
“It’s hard to be done with gymnastics,” she said. “For some of us, we’ve been doing it since we were three and it’s all we know.”
As Ostad points out, Friday’s meet is not the team’s last. The gymnasts still have one more away meet and a chance at postseason competitions before they have to say their final farewells.
“Friday’s going to be sad, but there’s still more gymnastics to be done,” Ostad said.
Drass said he thinks Friday’s meet will bring a big crowd because Columbia has always been supportive of Missouri gymnastics.
“(Columbia) has watched these girls grow as well throughout the years,” Drass said. “I think they’ll want to send them off on a good note.”