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#12 Missouri visits Athens looking for first SEC win

Sticking those landings will be the key in Athens against an injury-riddled Georgia team.

Sienna Schreiber warms up beam in Tuscaloosa, AL in Week 2.
Mizzou Athletics

Back again! It’s almost time for Saturday Afternoon at Stegeman, as your no. 12 Missouri Tigers hit the road for Athens to take on the no. 20 Georgia Bulldogs (or GymDogs, as they call themselves). I’ll be your hostess with the mostest, your guide to the twisting n tumbling Tigers of CoMo, providing all the info you need to follow along.

After having an estimated only 30% “sticks” against Alabama (more on that a little later), that’s the main focus this week.

Want to read more about Shannon’s conversation with the media? I recapped it here in Friday’s links post.

Meet Info

When: Saturday, January 20

Where: Stegeman Coliseum | Athens, GA

Time: 1:00 p.m. CST

TV: SEC Network+

History: Mizzou trails in the all-time matchups, 5-22, but the Tigers have taken each of the last three. (source: Last year, Mizzou took down the GymDogs at home by 0.55, 196.975—196.425.

Fun Facts:

  • Once upon a time, Georgia was a powerhouse, ranking in the top 3 nationally from 1998 to 2009, including 7 years atop the national rankings. From 2010 to 2020, they ranked somewhere in the top 13, before finishing no. 18 in 2021, no. 30 in 2022 and no. 20 last year.
  • Georgia has more national championships than any other school, including Utah, UCLA, and the other blue bloods, and has made 35 appearances in the NCAA championships
  • Courtney Kupets Carter is in her seventh season at the helm of the GymDogs.
  • Shannon Welker took over for Mizzou in 2014, and has turned the Tigers into a top-15-20 team annually. His first year they were ranked 41st, but after that: 21st, 19th, 17th, 20th, 17th, 14th, 14th, 14th, 5th and 14th (2023).

Injury Report: Georgia has been absolutely decimated by injuries. Let’s recap:

  • January 2024: Freshman Kelsey Lee and fifth-year Haley de Jong (9.9 VLT, 9.925 UB, 9.925 BB) are out for the season. Haley was injured during warmups during the first meet of the season against NC State.
  • December 2023: Vanessa Deniz (9.925 BB) is out for the season after knee surgery. Naya Howard (9.925 VLT, 9.925 UB, 9.9 BB) currently is sporting a knee brace and crutches.
  • As for Mizzou, Addison Lawrence (hip surgery) is working her way back, but it is unknown if she will be back this season. Currently, she’s acting in a teammate coaching role.

Last Time On The Mats

When we last saw our then-no. 3 Tigers, they visited no. 4 Alabama for their first road meet of the year.

First rotation (MIZ bars, UGA vault): Despite a season high score from Mara (9.85), and season-high tying scores from Kyra (9.80) and Sienna (9.85), the rest of the rotation scored pretty low, and after one rotation, Alabama led Missouri by 0.175, 49.125—48.95.

Second rotation (MIZ vault, UGA bars): A very strong vault rotation should have titghtened up the score, but unfortunately, Alabama had a really great bars rotation and added to their lead, taking over Mizzou by 0.350, 98.675—98.325. Mizzou had a season high score by 0.200 (just .075 off their record high!), and team vault title, led by season-highs by Jocelyn (9.925), who also won the event, Hannah (9.90) and Sienna (9.85). Rayna and Amari tied their season-highs (9.875 & 9.825, respectively).

Third rotation (MIZ floor, UGA beam): The Tigers had a strong floor rotation, only missing last week’s score by a tenth. Alonna’s 9.875 was her season-high (and only .025 off her best ever). Sienna and Hannah each tied their season-highs with a 9.85 and 9.90, respectively, and freshman Kennedy Griffin, in her first official action (she did exhibition at the Mizzou Invite and scored a 9.90). The rotation was anchored by Joci, who somehow only scored a 9.90 despite what looked like PERFECTION. After three rotations, Alabama’s lead got considerably smaller, only leading by 1/10th going into the final rotation, 147.775—147.675.

Final rotation (MIZ beam, UGA floor): With one rotation to go, the Tigers faltered. Lots of balance checks and a few almost-falls led to a plethora of scores on the lower end, with the exception of Sydney’s season-high 9.80 and Sienna’s 9.95 in the anchor spot, which also earned her an individual title. After four rotations, Alabama’s lead had expanded a bit more, and the final score was not particularly close, 197.225—196.475.

What To Expect At The Venue

Stegeman Coliseum was opened in 1964 and is the home of men’s and women’s basketball and gymnastics, and with renovations has a capacity of 10,523. The first meet of the year had 7,106 in attendance (during student winter break). Last year, the GymDogs averaged 9,155 in their home meets, and reached 10,224 at one point.

Fun Fact: Per Georgia Athletics’ site, the Coliseum itself is actually made up of two structures, the roof and the building beneath it. The only connection between the two is an aluminum bellows which seals the joints and permits the rise and fall of the roof with temperature change.

Quick Comparisons

Records To Watch:

  • Overall Score: 197.85, scored at no. 17 Arkansas last season
  • Balance Beam: 49.550, scored at no. 17 Arkansas last season after earlier setting a new record of 49.525 at no. 23 Illinois
  • Uneven Bars: 49.450, scored at (surprise) no. 17 Arkansas last season
  • Vault: 49.500, set at NCAA LA Regional Second Round, tying March 2022 record
  • Floor Exercise: 49.65, set in 2022; season-best in 2023 was 49.600

Matchups to Keep an Eye on

While there aren’t individual head-to-head matchups, I thought it was interesting to share the no. 1 vs the no. 1, no. 2 vs no. 2, etc. And a wild card. UGA is listed first, as they’re the home team. Scores in parentheses are the highest of the season.

Floor: Lily Smith (9.925) vs. Jocelyn Moore (9.975) | Ady Wahl (9.85) vs. Hannah Horton (9.90) | Ashlyn LaClair (9.80) vs. Amari Celestine (9.875) | Sidney Fitzgerald (9.775) vs. Alonna Kratzer (9.875) | Amanda Cashman (9.75) vs. Sienna Schreiber (9.85) | Wild Card: Eryn Williams (9.725) vs. Kennedy Griffin (9.825) OR Rayna Light (9.80)

Analysis: Of the scores I could find from last year, Cashman’s best score is 9.925, while Williams is close to her season-best from last year (9.90). Smith, the undisputed top dawg —see what I did there? — of this team, is just a freshman, as is Wahl. LaClair is a senior, and the 9.80 is at/better than last year’s scores, while the same can be said for Fitzgerald, a sophomore.

The Fab Floor, that’s what they are. The nation’s no. 6 ranked floor squad is getting all the accolades, especially after freshman Kennedy Griffin’s Destiny’s Child medley and subsequent 9.825 went viral. Per the midweek presser, it’s likely we see Rayna Light (also a freshman) back in the lineup to continue those opportunities. Sienna Schreiber is just a touch off her 9.90 best from last season, and we can expect improvements from Amari Celestine (9.95 in ‘23). Jocelyn Moore told us she’s happy with her routine’s progress thus far, and doesn’t want to focus so much on the score as how she’s completing the skills the best she can.

Beam: JaFree Scott (9.90) vs. Sienna Schreiber (9.95) | Anya Turner (9.875) vs. Grace Anne Davis (9.90) | Sidney Fitzgerald (9.85) vs. Amari Celestine (9.875) | Jaydah Battle (9.85) vs. Mara Titarsolej (9.825) | Lily Smith (9.85) vs. Sydney Schaffer (9.80)| Wild Card: Ady Wahl (9.775) vs. Amaya Marshall (9.725)

Analysis: This rotation group is YOUNG, and features sophomores Scott (9.875 in ‘23) and Fitzgerald (9.80 in ‘23) and then a whole slew of freshmen: Turner, Battle, the aforementioned Smith, and Wahl. FR turner. Fun fact; JaFree Scott has assumed the responsibility of taking over the Georgia moonwalk tradition on beam this season. She is the eighth GymDog to perform the moonwalk on the balance beam.

Losing the incomparable Helen Hu (9.975 in 2023) and NCAA All-American Alisa Sheremeta, as well as the uber-talented beamer, Addison Lawrence (hip surgery recovery) is a lot for any squad to take in, and the team had their share of whoopsies in last week’s meet. However, they had a strong showing in the first meet, so improvement is expected.

Bars: Lily Smith (9.975) vs. Hollyn Patrick (9.875) | JaFree Scott (9.95) vs. Sienna Schreiber (9.85) | Ady Wahl (9.90) vs. Mara Titarsolej (9.85) | Katie Finnegan (9.875) vs. Amaya Marshall (9.825) | Amanda Cashman (9.825) vs. Kyra Burns (9.80) | Wild Card: Sidney Fitzgerald (9.800) vs. Jocelyn Moore (9.75)

Analysis: If Georgia has a strong event, it’s uneven bars. Smith, the freshman, has been almost perfect, while Scott has tied her 2023 score (9.95). Finnegan (9.95 in ‘23) is also capable of a huge score. and Cashman is close to her best (9.80 in ‘23). Per the Georgia athletics site, Lily Smith is only the seventh gymnast- and fourth freshman- in Georgia gymnastics history to start a season with a 9.975 on any event.

The Tigers continue to have some issues on bars with scoring. Last week, despite their routines looking pretty good from my eyes (and Coach Shannon!), they received some pretty low scores. Sticks are key. MUST STICK. LIU transfer Mara Titarsolej wowed the judges last week with a 9.85, though she scored 9.95s on the regular last season. She’ll get there, friends. Hollyn Patrick, the event winner from the Mizzou Invite in week 1, received an unbelievably low 9.65 for what reason I don’t even know, and Jocelyn Moore continues to struggle with the new stick rule, which requires you to hold still for 2 seconds before saluting (per her media day availability). There may be some changes this week, per Welker, so we’ll see if there’s a new Tiger on the bars.

Vault: Ady Wahl (9.85) vs. Jocelyn Moore (9.925) | Katie Finnegan (9.85) vs. Hannah Horton (9.90) | Amanda Cashman (9.80) vs. Amari Celestine (9.875) | Jaydah Battle (9.800) vs. Sienna Schreiber (9.85) | Ashlyn Laclair (9.75) vs. Grace Anne Davis (9.825) | Wild Card: n/a (high score) vs. Rayna Light (9.825)

Analysis: This is where the injuries really have taken effect. In the first two meets, the GymDogs didn’t even have 6 gymnasts do vault, so ALL the scores had to count— no drops. Will we see that this week? Wahl and Finnegan sit tied atop the rotation with 9.85s, and Cashman’s 9.80 ties her best from a season ago. Battle is a freshman, and LaClair is a senior who has either tied or beaten her best at 9.75.

Shannon Welker proclaimed vault to be Mizzou’s most improved rotation in the preseason, and I continue to agree. They topped their season-high team score last week and had a really terrific rotation. They currently rank 6th nationally. The only thing to improve? Gotta STICK THOSE LANDINGS, as only Sienna (besting or tying her ‘23 season-high) was without steps. Also of note, 4/6 of the rotation currently has 10.0 start values, which is HUGE, including Joci (10.0 last season and earning a fantastic 9.925 last week), Amari (9.95 last season), and freshman Hannah Horton (consecutive 9.90s). JJ Jachna, per Welker, is likely to exhibition this time around, or wait til another home meet to show off her skills.

How Missouri Can Win

Floor: Continue to show off your skills and have clean routines. The judges want to be entertained, and Jackie Terpak is doing a great job of having the FXers show off. Another 9.875 from Amari would be awesome, as well as awarding Joci the score she actually earns (hint: it’s not a 9.9 on a flawless routine).

Beam: Shannon loved the toughness of the team to stay on the beam when it would have been easy to give up — there were A LOT of wobbles — but they’ve got to be confident and avoid those 9.7s and lower (4/5 of the scores last week were 9.75 and below).

Bars: Keep it close with Georgia and STICK THOSE LANDINGS. I’m tired of these weird low bar scores, y’all. I’d love to see no 9.7s or below in the rotation— they had two in the first meet and (gasp) three last week vs. Alabama.

Vault: 3/6 Mizzou vaulters beat their season-highs from a year ago, and two more tied their best scores. Keep it up and avoid the little side steps and step backs. Glue those feet to the mats!!!!

Overall: Per RoadtoNationals, if you take the highest scores thus far on each apparatus, Georgia’s best score is 197.00. Using the same metrics, Mizzou’s best score is 197.400, so this should be a win. I expect it to be a win. However, as Shannon mentioned in the mid-week media session, it’s not about “winning.” It’s all about the final score. They want a good score to continue to raise their profile. I’m thinking 197 for sure.

Now that the Tigers have slid back to their preseason no. 12 ranking, they again have “Something to Prove.” You got as high as third; don’t let that feeling slip away. Let’s do it, Tigers! I have great confidence in Mizzou and what they are capable of.

I’m so excited.