clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Friday Night Heights Returns as Mizzou faces Louisiana State at Hearnes

It’s a battle of Tigers and top-10 teams. Who will prevail?

Mizzou Athletics

It’s Friday Night Heights time! After a great meet last week in Athens, our no. 9 Missouri Tigers have returned home to the friendly confines of Hearnes Center in a Tiger v. Tiger dual of domination. Let’s get started with a sweet, sweeeeet uni reveal.


Meet Info

When: Friday, January 26

Where: Hearnes Center| Columbia, Mo.

Time: 7:30 p.m. CST

TV: SEC Network

History: In the all-time series against LSU, Missouri trails the Tigers, 8-52. However, out of all eight Mizzou victories, three came from 2022, with the most recent being the 2022 Raleigh Regionals when they beat them in the first round (source: MUTigers.com)

Fun Facts: LSU head coach Jay Clark has been with the Tigers since 2012, serving as Associate HC from 2012-19 and Co-Head Coach from 2019-20 before taking the reigns completely in 2021. The Cajun (spicy?) Tigers have two Missouri natives on their roster in junior Alexis Jeffrey (Warrensburg) and Aleah Finnegan (Lee’s Summit). Aleah Finnegan punched her ticket to the 2024 Paris Olympics after her performance at the World Championships in Antwerp last October.


Last Time On The Mats

When we last saw OUR Tigers, they took down the then-no. 20 Georgia Bulldogs (currently no. 18) by 0.35 and a score of 197.400 to 197.050 last Saturday in Athens. This was their second-highest road score going back to the 2023 season, and it wasn’t until mid-February last year that Mizzou had this high of a 197. Just awesome. Let’s recap quickly.

First rotation (MIZ bars, UGA vault): The Tigers came out ready to go in this one, with 4/6 Tigers notching season-best scores, including a program record-breaking 9.975 by LIU transfer Mara Titarsolej and a solid routine by first time bars competitor, Rayna Light.

The GymDogs fielded their first complete rotation of the season with six members— they’ve been hit hard by injuries — and hit their highest score on (this is going to be redundant) a freshmen duo— Ady Wahl (9.875) and JaFree Scott (9.825), the latter of whom performed on vault for the first time this season.

After One: 49.250 MIZ — 49.025 UGA

Second rotation (MIZ vault, UGA bars): Mizzou followed up an awesome bars rotation with another great vault performance, only .05 off their season best. Season-bests were earned by Sienna Schreiber, Grace Anne Davis, Amari Celestine, and Jocelyn Moore, who also won the individual title. #VaultSquad

Georgia took to one of their strongest events hoping to make a dent in the score and did so just a smidge, due to the freshmen duo of JaFree Scott (9.875) and Lily Smith, who earned a 10.

After Two: 49.325 MIZ (98.575) — 49.25 UGA (98.275)

Third rotation (MIZ floor, UGA beam): Two Tigers earned season-bests on FX, including Sienna Schreiber and Kennedy Griffin, who each notched 9.90s. Amari Celestine tied her season-best 9.875 before Jocelyn Moore closed it out with a 9.90.

Georgia’s 49.35 was their best of the season, though, led by a 4-pack of freshmen in Lily Smith (9.95) and 9.875s from Jaydah Battle, JaFree Scott and Anya Turner.

After Three: 49.425 MIZ (147.975)— 49.435 UGA (147.70)

Final rotation (MIZ beam, UGA floor): The Tigers, because they came to play in the final rotation, with five Tigers tallying season-best scores, including Amaya Marshall, Rayna Light (in her first officially scoring beam routine) Sydney Schaffer, and Amari Celestine (who hit a magnificent 9.925, and then Sienna Schreiber in the anchor spot, tallying a 9.975.

Georgia’s last chance at a comeback was on floor exercise, where they’d need their best score by a significant amount to have a chance. The GymDogs did as well as expected, and despite the season-bests (or tied bests) by 5/6 of the rotation, they only brought it a little closer in the end.

After Four: 49.400 MIZ (197.400) — 49.425 (197.05)

LSU, on the other hand, is coming off a masterful 198.125 against no. 6 Kentucky last weekend. They had season highs on vault, beam and floor, and bars (49.45) was their second best. The Tigers were led by seniors Haleigh Bryant, who took the AA title and scored a perfect 10 on bars, and Kiya Johnson, who earned a 10 on floor.


What To Expect At The Venue

In Mizzou’s first and only meet at Hearnes Center so far this year, they hit 3,514 in attendance, which was a good number. The number to beat from last year? 6,041 in mid-February vs. Auburn and Olympic gold medalist Sunisa Lee. Can the Tigers do it again? We’ll see. Below is Mizzou’s top 10 maximum attendance, per roadtonationals.com. 2023 had the best numbers in the last decade.

Top 10 attendance figures for Mizzou
data visualization via roadtonationals.com

Per Mizzou Head Coach Shannon Welker in the midweek presser, for SEC campuses that field a gymnastics team, it is pretty common to have it be the third highest attended event on campus per event. “When we start seeing that support from our fan base,” he said, “It’s really inspiring. It’s like, ‘Hey, we belong,’ and it’s an extra little incentive.”


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. Mizzou is listed first. Scores in parentheses are the highest of the season.

Vault: Jocelyn Moore (9.925) vs. Haleigh Bryant (9.975) | Amari Celestine (9.90) vs. Savannah Schoenherr (9.925) | Hannah Horton (9.90) vs. KJ Johnson (9.925) | Sienna Schreiber (9.85) vs. Amari Drayton (9.925) | Grace Anne Davis (9.825) vs. Kiya Johnson (9.90) | Wild Card: Grace Anne Davis (9.825) OR JJ Jachna (9.775) vs. Aleah Finnegan (9.875)

Analysis: We will for sure see three of the four Tigers who have 10.0 SV, but maybe could this be the week we see JJ’s debut? Per Welker, “I think she’s looking really good over there. We’re hoping to get her in the lineup this weekend or next weekend.” This would be a GREAT meet for Joci to get that 10 again, and I’d love to see a battle between her and Haleigh Bryant for the title. Bryant had a couple of 10.0 vaults last year, as did Aleah Finnegan, so keep an eye on them. As for the national rankings, Bryant sits 3rd (9.942 avg), Joci sits 10th (9.892), Amari 15th (9.883) and Amari Drayton is 24th (9.875).

Of note: Missouri did not face Kiya Johnson last season in Baton Rouge, as she was out with an achilles injury. That injury has clearly healed, however, judging by this VLT score, which is at least her best the past two seasons (she scored 9.95+ pretty regularly in 2022). Another semi-unknown for Missouri is LSU’s offseason addition of Florida grad transfer Sav Schoenherr, who did not compete in 2023 for the Gators, but in 2022 scored 9.90+ in five meets.

Bars: Mara Titarsolej (9.975) vs. Haleigh Bryant (10.0) | Hollyn Patrick (9.875) vs. Konnor McClain (10.0) | Sienna Schreiber (9.85) vs. Kiya Johnson (9.95) | Amaya Marshall (9.825) vs. Savannah Schoenherr (9.925) | Kyra Burns (9.825) vs. Alexis Jeffrey (9.90) | Wild Card: Jocelyn Moore (9.800) OR Rayna Light (9.825) vs. Tori Tatum (9.85) OR Ashley Cowan (9.80) OR Aleah Finnegan (9.925 in 2023)

Analysis: Per Shannon Welker, we should expect to see Amaya Marshall back on the bars after taking last week off, but even if she’s not ready to go, he says they are fortunate to have a good amount of depth on the apparatus. If Marshall isn’t ready, expect to see Rayna Light, who had a strong debut last week. As for the national rankings, Bryant sits 6th (9.933 avg), Kiya Johnson sits 13th at 9.908), and Konnor McClain, the freshman wunderkind, sits 23rd (9.90).

Livvy Dunne no more on the UB, as least not yet this season. The social media star appears to have been ousted from the lineup in favor of the famed freshman, Konnor McClain. Also missing on bars this year is Aleah Finnegan, a junior from Lee’s Summit, Mo. who hit a 9.925. Also a toss up is whether LSU will go with junior Tori Tatum (just 2nd meet) or sophomore Ashley Cowan (1st and 3rd meets). If they aren’t bringing back Aleah, I’d go with Cowan myself.

Beam: Sienna Schreiber (9.975) vs. Aleah Finnegan (9.95) | Amari Celestine (9.925) vs. Haleigh Bryant (9.925) | Grace Anne Davis (9.90) vs. Kiya Johnson (9.90) | Sydney Schaffer (9.875) vs. Sierra Ballard (9.90) | Amaya Marshall (9.775) vs. Annie Beard (9.875) | Wild Card: Mara Titarsolej (9.825) OR Rayna Light (9.75) vs. Konnor McClain (9.80) OR Alexis Jeffrey (9.775)

Analysis: Coach Welker doesn’t expect we’ll see any new beamers this week, as last week was a great new rotation that went well, though he’d like to work Mara back in at some point. Amari’s 9.925 comes on only her third collegiate beam routine. As for the Cajun Tigers, don’t let that overall beam score fool you. The purple & gold Tigers had two sub-49s to kick off the season, but bounced back vs. UK with a 49.425. National rankings-wise, Sienna sits 3rd (9.95 avg), and Bryant & Aleah Finnegan are tied for 11th with 9.908).

Floor: Jocelyn Moore (9.925) vs. Kiya Johnson (10.0) | Hannah Horton (9.90) vs. Aleah Finnegan (9.975) | Sienna Schreiber (9.90) vs. KJ Johnson (9.95) | Kennedy Griffin (9.90) vs. Haleigh Bryant (9.95) | Amari Celestine (9.875) vs. Konnor McClain (9.925) | Wild Card: Alonna Kratzer (9.875) OR JJ Jachna (9.85 exh) OR Rayna Light (9.80) vs. Sierra Ballard (9.90) OR Olivia Dunne (9.875)

Analysis: My favorite event, and also the one I have the best seat in the house to on at Hearnes (media sits right in front of the floor). While I doubt this meet is the one it happens, at some point, we should expect to see all four freshmen in the rotation (KG, JJ, Rayna, H2) as Shannon tries to figure out the best possible lineup. If there’s a change this week, it likely comes at Kennedy’s spot, as there’s no way, despite me listing AK as the wildcard, that she’s out of the rotation. I’d bet on Rayna or a JJ debut, honestly, as KG has competed the last two meets.

LSU is absolutely incredible on FX. A 49.700 is an INSANE score, and that’s what they got against UK last week. Three of the Tigers’ six expected rotationers either have scored a 10 this year (Kiya), or in the last year (Aleah, HB). For the lineup, TikTok star Livvy Dunne competed on FX in the first two meets, but not against UK, so will we see her? And conversely, I wonder if her traveling fans of teenage boys make the trip all the way to mid-Mo?

National rankings-wise, Finnegan & Kiya Johnson are tied for 5th (9.938), while Bryant & McClain and Joci are tied for 11th (9.925). LSU’s other main competing freshman, Amari Drayton, is 22nd (9.912).


How Missouri Can Win

TIME TO STAND ON BUSINESS. They are ready for this. The crowd will be loud and I’d love to see Mizzou benefit from a little bit of home-cooking scoring for once. Stick the landings— at least 50%— and point those toes. To be the best you gotta beat the best.

I’m so excited.