The Maneater

Season recap: Mizzou gymnastics earns best top-25 finish since 2010

The Tigers capped off their big year with a third-place finish at NCAA Regionals.

Sophomore Brooke Kelly performs her beam routine during a home Mizzou gymnastics meet.

The final chance for the Missouri gymnastics program to be represented at the NCAA Championship meet rested on the shoulders of Britney Ward. In her sophomore season, she was a crucial cog in the Tigers’ success and shined in her routine on the beam.

Despite giving another stellar performance in her event, Ward fell just one-fourth of a point short of tying for the event title and qualifying for the championships. This meant the 2017 season was officially over for Mizzou.

Though the season was cut shorter than intended, the Missouri gymnastics headed home with several highlights to build off of for the 2018 season. The Tigers finished an outstanding season, placing third as a team at the Gainesville NCAA Regional. The Tigers just missed out on the top two at the regional, keeping them from advancing to the national championship. Despite missing out on nationals, the program broke many records, and many athletes earned high honors this season.

After a strong start to the season, which saw the Tigers open with five consecutive wins, Missouri shot into the top ten in the country, rising as high as No. 6 nationally, according to the College Gymnastics Association. On Feb. 10, the Tigers broke a team vault record with a 49.425 against Lindenwood and Southeast Missouri.

Despite the promising start, Missouri struggled to take on the treacherous competition in the Southeastern Conference. The team lost four of its first five meets to open conference play. Despite the struggles, many members of the team gained confidence through the losses.

“We don't focus as much on the wins and losses; we focus more on the process,” Ward said in a press conference. “We are focused on what improvements we can make between here and now.”

The team built on that confidence by closing out the regular season with two SEC wins in the final two weekends of the regular season.

On consecutive weekends at Hearnes Center, the Tigers defeated Auburn 197.200-195.350 and the No. 12 Kentucky Wildcats on Senior Night 197.150-196.925.

The Tigers finished the regular season ranked No. 15 in the nation, the highest final ranking for the program since 2010. The team achieved the third, fourth and seventh highest scores in program history and claimed three wins in the SEC.

Next, Missouri traveled to Jacksonville, Florida, for the SEC Championships, where the Tigers finished in seventh place behind a number of highly ranked teams, including No. 1 Louisiana State, No. 3 Florida and No. 4 Alabama.

During the meet, junior Becca Schugel and Ward were selected to the all-SEC Team. Schugel was selected for her dominant floor routine and Ward for her stellar performance on the beam.

The Tigers’ performance earned them a trip to the NCAA Gainesville Regional Meet on April 1. The regional appearance marked the program's third consecutive NCAA regional appearance and the 27th overall.

The Tigers competed against the No. 1-seeded Florida, No. 2-seeded Georgia, No. 4-seeded New Hampshire, No. 5-seeded Penn State and No. 6-seeded North Carolina.

The Tigers finished with a total score of 196.100, tying the second-highest regional score in program history. Florida took first place with a 197.125, and Georgia placed second with a 196.775 to advance to the NCAA Championships.

“We knew it was going to be tough coming in here being the third seed,” Welker said in a news release. “We've seen Florida and Georgia all year long and we know they're good teams and we were going to have one of our better meets to knock them off.”

Mizzou started the meet with a bye in the first rotation. In the second rotation, the Tigers showed off their floor routines, earning a 49.025 in the event. Junior Kennedi Harris scored a team-best 9.875 for her 10th score of 9.875 or higher this season. Sophomores Madeleine Huber and Brooke Kelly both posted scores of 9.8.

In the third rotation, on vault, the Tigers earned a score of 49.075. Ward dominated the event with a 9.875 and Aspen Tucker earned a 9.850. Both Harris and sophomore Xarria Lewis contributed scores of 9.8, a season high for Lewis.

Bars were next up for the fourth rotation, where four Tigers scored a 9.825 or higher. Schugel, Kelly and junior Shauna Miller all earned a 9.850, and Huber scored a 9.825. Ward contributed to the score with 9.75.

The meet concluded with the fifth rotation on the beam, where Ward led the pack. She earned a 9.875, tying for third overall in the event and only 0.25 away from a spot at the national championships.

"I thought we performed well today," Welker said in a news release. "I liked that we came out and attacked our first event. It got us off to a nice solid start, which was something we were focusing on”

With just two outgoing seniors, Missouri will return with over 85 percent of its roster next season and will look to build upon what was one of the program’s most successful seasons to date. With sophomore Morgan Porter returning from injury, and the potential growth of rising stars Tucker and Ward, the Tigers should be well-equipped for 2018.

Edited by Eli Lederman | elederman@themaneater.com

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