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Mizzou Athletics 2021: A year in review

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It was a year of change for Mizzou Athletics, from the person leading the charge to the players committing to the football team.

Syndication: Columbia Daily Tribune Don Shrubshell/Tribune / USA TODAY NETWORK

Athletics Department

Syndication: Columbia Daily Tribune Don Shrubshell/Tribune / USA TODAY NETWORK

Highlights: Jim Sterk steps down as Athletic Director; Desiree Reed-Francois hired as Missouri’s first female Athletic Director

Any year you swap athletic directors means the transition is automatically the biggest story of the year (assuming your team doesn’t win any championships). And Mizzou certainly made a splash, hiring UNLV’s Desiree Reed-Francois to replace Jim Sterk. Reed-Francois became the first female athletic director at Mizzou and the first at a public institution in the SEC.

It’s still too early to tell how Reed-Francois will fare long term, but several challenges are on the horizon. For all of Jim Sterk’s faults, he was an excellent fundraiser, and Missouri needs to keep the money flowing if it wants to compete in an SEC that’s adding Texas and Oklahoma. Reed-Francois has shaken up the athletic department, eliminating positions and consolidating heavily. And she may have her first coaching search on the horizon, as Cuonzo Martin’s team is seemingly limping to the finish line in January.


Olympics

The Olympic Games-Tokyo 2020 Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images

Highlights: Karissa Schweizer competes in two Olympics finals; J’Den Cox misses weigh-in, fails to qualify for Tokyo games

Two GOATs dominated the Olympic sports this year, albeit for very different reasons. Getting the bad out of the way, J’Den Cox stunned everyone when he failed to qualify for the Olympics because of a missed weigh-in. Cox appealed the decision, but eventually dropped it. He returned to Team USA in October for the World Championships, where he finished with a bronze medal.

On a more positive note, Karissa Schweizer had a year to remember. The former track star qualified for two Olympic events — the 10,000 and 5,000 meter runs — and earned a spot in both finals in Tokyo. She failed to finish above 11th in either, but the act of getting to that point on the world stage in unsavory weather conditions (i.e. it was hot and humid as hell) is impressive enough.


Football

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Highlights: Tigers go 6-7 in year two under Eli Drinkwitz, competing in first bowl since 2018; Mizzou signs highest-rated recruiting class ever

The 2020 COVID season fizzled out last December when Mizzou had to cancel their participation in the Music City Bowl due to positive cases. There was much anticipation leading up to 2021, especially as Eli Drinkwitz started building a stellar 2021 recruiting class and made an outside-the-box hire in Steve Wilks as his new defensive coordinator.

The results were mixed on the field. Mizzou sported the country’s worst Power 5 defense for the first half of the season, propping it up with a lethal offense. The second half of the season saw a complete 180 flip, with the offense struggling to manufacture anything outside of All American Tyler Badie. The defense, however, became deadly, enough to earn Missouri a spot in the Armed Forces Bowl, where they lost on a walkoff field goal to Army.

The real story, however, was Eli Drinkwitz and his staff’s recruiting. The Tiger coaches reeled In a consensus top 20 class, highlighted by 5-star wide receiver Luther Burden to go along with a host of local blue chip talent and a top 75 quarterback. Missouri needs to improve on the field to keep Drinkwitz around long term, but there’s no doubt that the talent will be there.


Men’s Hoops

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Missouri at Oklahoma Andrew Nelles-USA TODAY Sports

Highlights: Missouri finishes 7th in the SEC, loses in first round of NCAA Tournament as a 9 seed; Cuonzo Martin remakes roster, which struggles to 6-6 non-conference record

The year 2020 ended with hope for Cuonzo Martin’s program, which entered SEC play with a legitimate shot at finishing in the top two or three of the conference. And while the Tigers added some marquee wins to their resume, Missouri faded down the stretch, finishing 7th in the SEC and falling to a 9 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers were quickly bounced by Oklahoma and said goodbye to... well, just about everyone.

Martin rebuilt the roster with transfers and some freshmen in the offseason, leading to lowered but still average expectations. The 2021 season quickly went south, however, with a 14-point loss to UMKC acting as a warning to what would come next. Routs in the Border War and Braggin’ Rights soon followed, and Missouri enters 2022 on perhaps the precipice of another regime change if Cuonzo Martin can’t quickly figure things out.


Softball

Twitter: @MizzouSoftball

Highlights: Mizzou finishes 2021 season 42-17, hosts NCAA Super Regional; Larissa Anderson signs contract extension

It says in our Twitter bio that we’re a softball school, and no year proved it better than 2021. Larissa Anderson continued Mizzou’s program revival with a sterling 42-17 campaign, good for 4th in the SEC. Mizzou buzzed through the Regionals, earning their opportunity to host a Super Regional for the first time since 2013. Unfortunately the Tigers ran into a buzzsaw named Odicci Alexander at James Madison, who powered James Madison to a 2-1 series win.

Despite the disappointing end to the season, 2022 has the look of a promising one for the Tigers. Taking advantage of the extra year of eligibility afforded by COVID, Larissa Anderson convinced the vast majority of her team to return for one more shot at World Series glory. The on and off field efforts were instrumental in Larissa Anderson’s contract extension, which will keep her at the school until at least 2026.


Women’s Hoops

NCAA Womens Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament-Missouri vs Alabama Dawson Powers-USA TODAY Sports

Highlights: Tigers roll to 11-2 non-conference record, beat No. 1 South Carolina to open SEC play

If you were waiting to get here, don’t worry — this is an up-to-date post.

The year didn’t get off to such a hot start for Robin Pingeton and company. Despite a roster that sports several former blue chip recruits and talented transfers, the Tigers sputtered to a 9-13 final record, raising questions about whether or not Pingeton could reach the same levels of success she’d had with Sophie Cunningham.

The early returns, however, are more than promising. After an 11-2 non-conference schedule, which included getting so close to taking down No. 4 Baylor on the road if not for some questionable officiating that prematurely fouled out Aijha Blackwell. The year ended with the Tigers downing undefeated No. 1 South Carolina in overtime while down several key players (and the coach in charge of the scout) due to COVID protocols. That included Aijha Blackwell, the team’s leading rebounder and arguably best player overall. It was the first time Mizzou beat an Associated Press No. 1 team and, hopefully, will announce a new era of success for Robin Pingeton and her program.


Wrestling

Twitter: @MizzouWrestling

Highlights: Mizzou rejoins the Big 12, finishes 7th in NCAA Championships

Let’s be honest, it’s always a good year for #TigerStyle, right? Missouri finished 7th as a program at the NCAA Championships and placed three All Americans, another ho-hum season of excellence for Brian Smith’s program.

The real story of the year, however, was what happened afterward. In the spring, Mizzou announced the wrestling program would return to the Big 12 after nearly a decade of competing in the MAC due to the SEC’s lack of wrestling. The decision was met with praise by Mizzou faithful, who no doubt relish the opportunity to see Missouri compete with other elite programs like Oklahoma State and Iowa State. Missouri is currently 6-2 on the season with losses to Virginia Tech and North Carolina State, two top 10 programs. There’s little reason to think 2022 won’t be another banner year for Mizzou’s most consistent, excellent athletics program.