From the first moments, when the notes of the hauntingly beautiful version of Sweet Dreams began playing in the hype video, to Jocelyn Moore’s final tumbling pass, it just felt so damn good to be home. After two straight weeks of road meets, one great, one ... let’s just go with not so great... this team was ready to get back to CoMo and show off for the fans. And show off they certainly did.
As I’m sitting here starting to write this in the immediate aftermath of this meet, I am AMPED up. It is honestly hard to put into words what being at Friday night’s meet vs. no. 3 LSU felt like, but I want to bottle that joy up and live off it forever. The record-breaking crowd of 7,336. The noise that enveloped a cavernous Hearnes Center, making it hard to hear the person next to you, let alone your own thoughts. The sparkliest, most beautiful leos I’ve ever seen. Amari’s faux-hawk, the best of all her incredible hair choices. The freshmen, who absolutely kicked ass. The sheer force of will of the team to get back into it. The elation when they realized they’d actually done it. Joci’s floor routine, which sealed the deal. I won’t forget Friday night, and this team won’t either.
It is a FULL house at Hearnes for no. 9 #Mizzou v. no. 3 LSU. I’ll provide updates here for @RockMNation— Karen S (@karensteger) January 27, 2024
Higher security appears to be in place because of tonight’s special “guest” (i.e. it’s social media sensation Olivia Dunne) pic.twitter.com/QvcihE8SxY
Let’s get to it.
Rotation One— MIZ Vault | LSU Bars
The #VaultSquad continued to showcase their massive improvements as three Tigers achieved season bests and the rotation as a whole hit, yet again, a new season best. With each meet they are inching ever-closer to that 49.45 program record achieved twice last year. The lineup and order remained the same, with graduate engineering student Sienna Schreiber leading off with a small hop on her Yurchenko Full to earn a 9.80 before freshman Rayna Light stuck the landing on hers, earning a 9.85. Junior Grace Anne Davis followed with an awesome 9.875 (tying a personal best mark set in 2022) before freshman Hannah Horton, earning her second individual event title of her very young career, earned a 9.95 on her 10.0 SV Yurchenko 1 1⁄2 (video below). Junior dynamic duo Amari Celestine and Jocelyn Moore finished it off with a 9.85 and 9.90, respectively, preserving the great rotation and 49.425 score. Particularly impressive (and mildly amusing, if we’re being honest) was Joci’s landing in that anchor spot, as she fought so hard to not move her feet that she did this almost acrobatic move with her body to try to regain control.
On LSU’s side, while freshman sensation Konnor McClain fell, the rest of the rotation was solid, with Warrensburg, Mo. native Alexis Jeffrey starting things off with a 9.875 (she was a bit short on one of her handstands but very good overall) before Ashley Cowan pulled down a season-best 9.90. Anchor Haleigh Bryant brought it home for the Cajun Tigers to give them a 49.400 (their best this season is 49.65).
After one rotation, it was shaping up to be a tight one with Mizzou in the lead, 49.425 to 49.400.
Rotation Two— MIZ Bars | LSU Vault
WELCOME BACK, Amaya Marshall! The senior, who took the week off bars against Georgia, was back with a vengeance, earning the top spot of the bars rotation with a 9.90 on the fastest, most high-flying routine I’ve seen. Also impressive was, well, pretty much everyone else. With the exception of Mara TItarsolej — she was bound to regress a tiny bit after a 9.975 masterpiece last week— every Tiger either tied or beat their season bests. Kyra Burns got the Tigers started on the right foot with a 9.875, before Rayna Light, performing just her second official collegiate bars routine, once again hit a 9.825. Then came the aforementioned Marshall with her huge 9.90, and three consecutive 9.875s by Moore, Schreiber and Titarsolej to close it out. The team’s 49.400 was, of course, a season-high, and again, thisclose to the program high (49.45).
Maya was off bars last week. What a return!!!!! 9.90 for the super senior, who we got to interview this week pic.twitter.com/8yjgrF4ZRr— Karen S (@karensteger) January 27, 2024
When I asked Jocelyn in the post-meet presser about her bars performance she said, “I’ve been working so hard in the gym on focusing on the little details, whether that’s hitting the handstands or sticking the dismounts, and tonight I would I did both.” She continued. “ I think it’s just it’s exciting knowing that I performed what I’m capable of doing because a lot of the times you can go out and hit a routine but you know you’re capable of more so tonight I was really proud of what I did.”
While Mizzou killed it on bars, LSU took to the vault and churned out a super solid 49.325 with no counting scores lower than 9.85 (a 9.775 with a step back was dropped). The main culprit for the markdowns? No stuck landings amongst the purple & gold Tigers, whereas through two rotations the black & gold Tigers had stuck 6/12.
After two rotations, Mizzou slightly extends its lead to 0.100, 98.825—98.725. This is their second highest two rotation score in history.
Rotation Three— MIZ Beam | LSU Floor
In the lead with just two rotations remaining, Mizzou faltered a bit. It wasn’t terrible, mind you, and there are easy fixes going forward (more on that later), but everyone was just a little off. Knowing LSU is a crazy good floor team — no. 1 in the nation and fresh off a 49.700 last week — added to my own anxiety (damn you, extensive research), so as Mizzou earned a trio of scores in the 9.7 range from Amaya (9.75), Sydney Schaffer (9.775) and GAD (9.75), I couldn’t help but think they were going to let a huge dub slip away. That, and I couldn’t actually see their routines, as the view from press row was almost completely obstructed by the men’s cheerleaders. Go Team!
The Beam Queens are simply better than they showed on Friday night, as the two highest scores were from apparatus newbies— Amari, who had a 9.825 in just her third routine, and Rayna, who had a 9.80 in just her second. The normally sure-footed Sienna, who had that near-perfect 9.975 last week, fell, thus dropping a 9.30, and having to count the others. Not ideal.
Mizzou Head Coach Shannon Welker said post-meet, “I just think, you know, they’re executing well, but it’s just like each routine has one area, right? It wasn’t like the whole routine was not good. And so I think, to me, that’s more encouraging because it’s like, alright, that was kind of a fluky. One thing right there versus it been throughout the entire routine.”
With Mizzou done on beam, we were left to watch the last two LSU floor routines, which helped them take the lead.
Disclaimer: I had trouble weaving in the Bayou Bengals’ performance naturally, so it’s a bit disjointed. Apologies.
In a move I wonder if Coach Clark ended up regretting, Haleigh Bryant, who holds a 9.95 this season and scored a 10 last year, was held out of FX for rest. In her place — no, not social media superstar Olivia Dunne, much to the dismay of her adoring fans — was freshman Konnor McClain. What followed was honestly surprising, given LSU’s overall floor exercise aptitude. The always-consistent Sierra Ballard was short on one of her landing passes leading off, earning a 9.775. Aleah Finnegan, the Lee’s Summit native who has a 9.975 to her name already this season and will represent the Philippines in Paris 2024, fell finishing off one of her tumbling passes (they dropped her 9.35). KJ Johnson stepped out of bounds, lowering her score to a 9.725. Konnor McClain, performing in only her second collegiate FX, was solid with a 9.875 and no noticeable deductions.
Enter the final two Tigers, who helped LSU overtake the lead. Amari Drayton, a freshman, had a 9.875. And then there was the anchor who earned a 10 on floor just last week, the incomparable Kiya Johnson. She didn’t get a 10 this week of course, but that 9.90 put the Bayou Bengals over the edge. The team as a whole scored just a 49.15 on the floor, and on such a normally high-scoring apparatus, they missed a real opportunity to take a large lead here.
After three rotations, despite neither team doing particularly well, LSU took the lead for the first time and headed into the final rotation up 0.15, 147.875—147.725.
Rotation Four— MIZ Floor | LSU Beam
Down 0.15 heading into the final rotation, how would the Fab Floor respond? And conversely, would the Bayou Bengals be able to hold on to their lead? Mizzou altered their lineup a bit this week, and much to my astonishment (I said in my preview this would never happen), floor mainstay Alonna Kratzer was held out in favor of starting three freshmen.
When asked in the postgame press conference about what Coach told the team in the pre-rotation chat, he said, “We just kind of huddled up and I said, ‘Look, great teams are able to respond from a little bit of adversity.’ I asked, are we a great team and they decided decisively said yes, we are. And I said hell yes. We went over the floor and we showed that we were a great team because you’re going to have to rebound and you’re going to have to work through some adversity and I was really proud of them for doing it.
Bear with me on this explanation of the action. It was kinda like a chess match. Or an intense game of ping-pong. Or, stay with me here as this is a stretch, Newton’s third law of motion, where for every action (in this case, an LSU beam routine), there is an equal and opposite reaction (from Mizzou, on the floor).
The rotation to end all rotations tipped off on the LSU side, as Sierra Ballard led off on beam with a 9.85, before Mizzou’s Sienna Schreiber, fresh off that fall in the last rotation, countered with a beautifully performed 9.90 to tie her career-best.
Let’s go, Sienna!!!! What a rebound pic.twitter.com/ayzy34U7l6— Karen S (@karensteger) January 27, 2024
Advantage: LSU, but their lead is down to 0.10.
Annie Beard was next up on beam and after a major balance check, earned a 9.75, before Rayna countered on floor with a 9.90.
Advantage: Mizzou, +.05.
LSU’s Konnor McClain followed with a mind-blowing 10.0 on the beam, though given the crowd noise for Mizzou at this point, it was almost an afterthought. H-Squared had a minor hiccup on the floor, but overall, had a really nice 9.825.
Advantage: LSU, +0.125
Hoping to add to their newfound lead, Kiya Johnson tied her season-best with a 9.90 before Amari countered with her season-best 9.90 (I swear I had a video but I can’t find it).
Advantage: LSU, is holding steady, +0.125.
Haleigh Bryant was up next for the Bayou Bengals, and got a 9.85 (it looked very good to me), before Mizzou countered HUGE. In the five spot, Kennedy Griffin — JUST A FRESHMAN, LADIES & GENTLEMEN — nailed it. She knew it, her team knew it, and the crowd knew it, chanting “10! 10! 10!” at the judges. She did earn one, to go with a 9.95 from the other, resulting in a brilliant 9.975.
Jocelyn Moore had nothing but high praise for her teammate in the post-meet, stating, “I was so proud of Kennedy. I mean, coming in as a freshman, she’s just so strong. She’s also a leader. So going after her, I was honestly honored. I was so happy that she was able to obtain that score because she deserves and she’s been working really hard in the gym so just to see her go out there and perform like that was amazing.”
Advantage: IT’S A TIE. A TIE.
LSU’s Aleah Finnegan — I felt so sorry for this girl by the end of this meet — fell in the anchor spot on beam, leaving the door open for Mizzou. With LSU dropping that unsavory 9.10, and Mizzou looking to drop Hannah’s 9.825, Mizzou (per the announcers, anyway) needed a 9.85 to take the W. Who better to handle this huge moment than Jocelyn Moore, who took the floor to deafening cheers to finish things off. And boy, did she. That 9.925 was awesome. This put the Tigers atan astounding 49.600 rotation score, which is tied for their second-highest floor score in history, just behind the 49.650 earned in the 2022 NCAA Regionals.
Advantage: Missouri Tigers. +0.10. CHECK MATE.
WHO’S THE BEST TIGERS OF THEM ALL?!? pic.twitter.com/wwdOzIUDe0— Karen S (@karensteger) January 27, 2024
After four rotations, MIZZOU BEATS NO. 3 LSU, 197.325—197.225 FOR THEIR HIGHEST RANKED WIN IN PROGRAM HISTORY**.
**It bests the win over No. 4 Nebraska on Jan. 28, 2012, per MUTigers.com
- Kennedy Griffin- I mean, how can I NOT pick her? The freshman was nearly perfect on floor (one judge thought she was perfect), and in only her third collegiate routine? On receiving a 10, Kennedy said:
“Honestly, I didn’t see it at first and I really was kind of freaking out and I was like looking around and then they’re like, ‘LOOK!’ It was just really cool to know all the drills, all the hard work, and all the practices and just the support from the teammates kind of helped to do that because I don’t think I could do that alone. I really need the coaches and my teammates. So it felt really cool to be able to do that.”
- Rayna Light- Competing in her first collegiate all-around, the freshman impressed with a season-best in vault (9.85), bars (9.825, tie), beam (9.80), and floor (9.90). WELL DONE. What a ray of light she’s been for this team (sorry).
- Jocelyn Moore- The one who closed it out and sealed the W. But also, you can tell how hard she’s worked to stick those landings, as evidenced by solid 9.90 on vault and the 9.875 on bars. On being the “closer”, Jocelyn said post-meet:
“It’s something so special and I think being the last routine for the meet, is it’s a little bit of pressure, but it’s exciting. And when I was going out before the judge even saluted me, hearing all the fans out the crowd screaming, I was like, wow, this is this is legit. It was actually really fun and just knowing that people are here to watch us and hear support us means so much.”
- THE WHOLE DAMN TEAM. Everyone, from the coaching staff to the competitors to the teammates who didn’t compete amping up the crowd and their teammates, celebrating every single thing. It was magnificent.
Kennedy on this being just her third collegiate floor routine and what has given her confidence:
“The trust that my teammates have for me and I have for them and the trust within the coaches I think that that our culture is just one big happy family and we all kind of trust each other to do our jobs and go out there. So knowing that the team has got my back and they know the training that we’ve been putting in to work on things like random things, and they know that they trust me to do it.”
Jocelyn on how defeating a team like LSU sets them up for the rest of the season:
“It definitely feels great being able to defeat a team like LSU. But regardless of who were competing against or what venue we’re at, just doing what we know how to do, focusing on what we can control and I think that’s what’s really been helping us in the past few years. I mean, I’m going on year three now. So learning from mistakes, but also being able to just go out and focus on what we can control.”
On the impact of the huge crowd:
It’s amazing. Seeing everybody and hearing them, especially after Kenny’s routine and the crowd was like. getting all loud. This is what we need. So just it’s nice when people show up to the events because we really do feed off of it.” —Jocelyn Moore
“That [the raucous crowd] is what we experience on the road just like that. That’s what SEC gymnastics is right there. And that’s why it’s a home field advantage because it got that on the road. Now we got that home. That’s great stuff, right? That’s that helps us does.” —Shannon Welker
Shannon Welker on the team’s beam performance and why he’s not worried:
“I think if we were hitting routines, and we were getting 9.7s and 9.8s, that to me would be more concerning when we’re when we’re getting 9.75 and 9.825 and you know there’s an obvious error. That’s much easier to fix, right? That’s much easier to fix because it tells me the talents everybody’s got to clean up that mistake... We went 48.90 on beam, and had we just gone maybe, you know, 49.3? That’s 4/10 higher. That’s a 197.70. That’s a big score, right? So I think it’s very encouraging. I think we certainly have room to grow.”
I mean, what else is there left to say? This team is so good. They weren’t even perfect tonight and still knocked off a top 5 team, who admittedly wasn’t perfect, either, but this isn’t about them. What Missouri accomplished on Friday put the country on notice. I can’t wait to see what’s next. Also, if you made it this far, congrats. You’re truly a fan of this team or desperate for good Mizzou news... or my parents.
UP NEXT: Mizzou heads to The Lonestar State for a meet against Texas Women’s University on Saturday at 6pm. I am unsure at that point how to watch it. I will report back.