No. 20 Missouri gymnastics places fifth at NCAA Regional meet, concluding the team’s season

Alabama and Georgia will advance to the NCAA semifinals, while the Tigers will switch their focus to the 2019 season.
Mary Nicholson poses during a floor routine during the Mardi Gras Invitational in St. Charles, Missouri, on Feb. 16, 2018.

The final rotation of the NCAA Tuscaloosa Regional gymnastics meet saw plenty of late drama, as No. 12 Georgia completed a comeback to spoil underdog Illinois’ meet, while another comeback from No. 13 Michigan ultimately came up just short.

No. 20 Missouri gymnastics, however, did not take part in the late excitement, as the Tigers finished far off the pace in fifth with a score of 196.100.

When the dust settled, Georgia, as well as No. 6 Alabama, advanced to the NCAA semifinals by finishing with the two highest scores. But Illinois, Michigan, Missouri and Central Michigan all saw their seasons come to an end in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on Saturday.

The fourth-seeded Tigers started the day well. Juniors Madeleine Huber and Britney Ward each recorded a 9.900 on the bars and beam, respectively, and Missouri was in third place after the second and third rotations, two-tenths of a point away from advancing.

But the Tigers’ good form did not last, as the team only posted one score above 9.800 in its final rotation.

“I thought the day was decent, but you have to be better than good when you come into a competition like this,” head coach Shannon Welker said in a press release. “We missed some opportunities on some events. You have to be really good when you come in; it was a tough regional, it was only four-tenths between a bunch of teams. We have to find ways to get better, and we'll definitely focus on those during the offseason and make sure we're in a better position moving into the next season.”

While Mizzou trailed off, Georgia and Michigan each rallied late in hopes of overtaking Illinois in second place. As the fifth seed, the Fighting Illini did not come into the meet as one of the favorites, but consistently solid routines — the team received less than 9.800 on only four occasions through the first five rotations — had them believing they could make it through to the semifinals.

The Wolverines, on the other hand, had been disappointing through five rotations, as the second-seeded team lingered in fifth place at the start of the final round. However, Michigan’s performance in the final round almost bailed it out. The first routine scored 9.800 and almost every routine thereafter improved upon the last, culminating in a 9.950 from senior Brianna Brown. But the comeback was not meant to be in the end, and the Wolverines finished .075 points behind third place.

Georgia also flopped during the first half of the meet, ending the third rotation in fourth place. But the Bulldogs clawed their way back in the fifth rotation with two consecutive scores above 9.900 on the bars and then completed their improbable comeback with sophomore Sabrina Vega’s 9.875 on the beam, in Georgia’s final routine of the night. Vega’s score lifted her team into the semifinals, finishing .075 points ahead of the Fighting Illini.

Top-seeded Alabama dominated the entire meet, winning every event en route to an emphatic first place finish. Freshman Lexi Graber electrified the home crowd with a 9.950 on vault and again with a 9.900 on bars. Graber went on to win the all-around competition, and her team, who finished the meet almost a full point ahead of the pack, will be among the favorites at the semifinals in St. Louis on April 20.

For Mizzou, however, Tuscaloosa was the final meet of the 2018 season. The Tigers will graduate four seniors in May — Tia Allbritten, Kennedi Harris, Shauna Miller and Becca Schugel — who accounted for 25 percent of the team’s routines on Saturday.

“We're going to miss our senior class,” Welker said in a press release. “Those young ladies really helped us move our program forward. They've given a lot to our program, and we're appreciative of all their efforts. They are great young ladies and I'm excited to see what they do with their lives moving forward.”

Edited by Bennett Durando | bdurando@themaneater.com

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