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Mizzou Gymnastics puts competitors, country on notice with phenomenal Mizzou Invitational

Shannon Welker’s squad dominated Northern Illinois, Lindenwood & Southeast Missouri to kick off the 2024 campaign

Mizzou Athletics

Welcome back, Tiger Gym fans, to a brand new season of Mizzou Gymnastics! I’ll be your hostess with the mostest, your guide to the twisting n tumbling Tigers of CoMo. After last year’s awesomeness and deciding to cover the team after attending just one meet, I couldn’t stay away. I’m going to strive to improve my technical knowledge this season and hopefully, we’ll be learning together.

On Saturday evening, while celebrating Princess & Super Hero Night at Hearnes — those blinking tiaras were a bit much on the eyes — the preseason no. 12 Tigers leapt (flipped? somersaulted? pirouetted? still workshopping the language here) to a commanding lead in front of the crowd of 3,514 and didn’t look back. Who was the competition? Let’s dig in.

The Mizzou Invitational featured two Show-Me State teams the Tigers are quite familiar with - Lindenwood and SEMO - and one they hadn’t faced since 2006, Northern Illinois.

Lindenwood came into this meet in a precarious state, despite ending the 2023 season on a high note. Gymnastics was one of the many — too many — programs announced to be axed at the season’s conclusion, and barring some sort of plan, whether it be a Title IX lawsuit and/or some sort of fundraising operation (there is some talk of both of these things, I’ve gathered), it will come to an end this academic year. I hate it. I hate it for the team, their scholarship athletes, their fans, the staff... everyone. THIS SUCKS.

The Tigers faced the Lions last year in St. Charles (oh my) in a tri-meet with Texas Women’s University and came away victorious, scoring a 196.800 to the Lions’ 191.325 (they had quite an uncharacteristic performance with a lot of falls & errors), giving MU a 9-2 overall edge over LU. The Lions finished last season ranked no. 51 overall with a high score of 196.275 and were no. 46 on bars, 50 on vault, 53 on floor and 56 on beam.

Southeast Missouri finished the 2023 season ranked 55th nationally, including 49 on floor, 54 on vault, 57 on bars and 58 on beam. Mizzou faced SEMO in a quad meet with North Carolina and Ball State at Hearnes last March, and the Tigers were victorious, notching a 197.250 team score while the Red Hawks were fourth with a 194.675. Mizzou holds a 37-8 edge over SEMO. The Red Hawks’ best team score was 196.175 last season.

Northern Illinois finished the 2023 season ranked 48th nationally, including 39 on beam, 43 on bars, 45 on floor and 51 on vault. Mizzou hasn’t faced NIU since 2006(!!), when the then-no. 9 Tigers posted a 196.025 to take first. NIU was third with a 191.225. Mizzou holds a 9-2 edge over NIU. The Huskies’ best team score from a season ago was 195.95. They did have an individual presence at the NCAA Denver Regional II, where the team tallied 39.325 points overall. Alyssa Al-Ashari scored a 9.80 on bars and a 9.925 on beam, Emmalise Nock scored a 9.875 on floor, and Natalie Hamp scored a 9.725 on bars. Al-Ashari, a senior, is back this season, as is Nock, a junior.

Background

In case you haven’t been keeping up, here’s some background before we get started, courtesy of my own reporting, head coach Shannon Welker’s open letter to the fans, and new SID Mason Arneson, a recent J-School grad who made the switch from reporting & writing to strategic communication and plans to be offering unprecedented coverage and access to the team this season.

  • Missouri ended the last season ranked no. 14 nationally, and the 2023 season included a Hearnes attendance record February 19 vs. Auburn and a 4-3 record in the SEC (4th place by record, 5th by score) with wins over no. 5 Auburn and no. 8 Alabama. And after placing 6th in the SEC Championships with their program-high conference score, the Tigers moved on to the NCAA Los Angeles Regional as a 13-seed where they placed 2nd in Session 2 against UCLA, Boise State and Stanford to move on to the Regional Finals to take on Washington and gym blue-bloods UCLA and Utah. There, they finished just .32 behind the runner-up Bruins and ended their season. Besides the no. 14 national ranking (per my favorite site, roadtonationals.com), they also were ranked no. 11 on beam, 14 on floor, 18 on bars, and 21 on vault. [links go to my many recaps]
  • Super senior (graduate student) Sienna Schreiber, returning for one last go-round, is coming off a helluva performance at the Black & Gold Intrasquad on December 10, where she had a 39.600 all-around score that included a 9.925 bars routine and a mind-blowing 9.95 beam routine.
  • Junior dynamic duo Amari Celestine and Jocelyn Moore return to set the gymnastics world on fire. Moore, in case you live under a rock, scored a perfect 10 on vault last season against no. 5 Auburn and won the vault honors at the SEC Championships, becoming Mizzou’s first-ever individual champ. Per Arneson, Moore has 17 routines that have notched a 9.9 or higher in 2023, while Amari is close behind with 13 (Sienna has 15). Amari, known primarily for her incredible floor routines that her younger brother helps choreograph, is adding a new event to her already impressive arsenal, and will be joining the beamers. You can expect to see the duo on all/any of the apparatuses at any given meet.
  • The Tigers brought in LIU transfer Mara Titarsolej, who scored a 9.825 on bars and a 9.85 on beam at the B&G meet. The Zutphen, Netherlands native scored a perfect 10 on bars in 2022 and five 9.95s last season. She ended the season tied for 11th nationally with our favorite former Tiger, Miss Helen Hu.
  • Missouri also brought in several freshmen who figure to be featured prominently in the rotations this season, including Hannah Horton, who was discussed as a ‘Freshman to Watch’ by the All Things Gymnastics podcast a few weeks ago. At the B&G meet, she competed in every event and scored a 9.85 or higher in vault, bars & floor. Impressive stuff. Rayna Light is likely to compete on vault, floor, and beam, while Kennedy Griffin will compete for beam and floor lineups**.

**after her score on FX at this meet, I would think we’ll be seeing her regularly.

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

Alright, let’s get to the results, shall we? This isn't the way I will normally format this, but with four teams competing it was honestly overwhelming to take in, so I don’t have a ton of commentary to add. Later this week we’ll move back to my traditional two parter: preview then recap.

VAULT

  • Pre-Meet Notes: In head coach Shannon Welker’s open letter to the fans, he called vault the most improved event, as they added three freshmen and JJ Jachna (back from an injury last year). The goal, as he told us in the preseason, is to have many 10.0 start value vaults scattered throughout the lineup, and as of now, Joci, Amari, Hannah (Horton) and JJ (Jachna) have them.
  • Total score: 49.20

T1. Amari Celestine / Hannah Horton - 9.875

T3. Rayna Light / Grace Anne Davis - 9.825

T5. Jocelyn Moore - 9.800

T7. Sienna Schreiber - 9.7750 (Dropped)

EXHIBITION: JJ Jachna- 9.775, Kennedy Griffin- 9.65

  • After one rotation: Mizzou leads 49.200 — 48.625 (Lindenwood) — 48.425 (NIU) — 47.60 (SEMO)

BARS

  • Pre-Meet Notes: Per Welker’s open letter, assistant coach Whitney Snowden has worked to attack handstands and sticks early on. Amaya Marshall, back from a foot injury last year, figures to be huge here, as well as the addition of two-time WCGA All-American Mara Titarsolej, “who might have the prettiest bar swing in the country.”
  • Total score: 49.175

1 Hollyn Patrick - 9.875 **Career best was 9.775** This is her first collegiate individual win!

2 Sienna Schreiber - 9.850

T3. Amaya Marshall / Mara Titarsolej - 9.825

5 Kyra Burns - 9.800

9 Jocelyn Moore - 9.750 (Dropped)

EXH: Hannah Horton - 9.75 / Alonna Kratzer- 9.70

  • After two rotations: Mizzou leads 98.375 — 96.675 (NIU) — 96.425 (Lindenwood) — 96.300 (SEMO)

BEAM

  • Pre-Meet Notes: New assistant coach Lacey Rubin has worked extensively with the experienced returners in Sienna, Grace Anne and Sydney (Schaffer), as well as Amaya. Shannon said we should expect to see Mara (Titarsolej), Amari (adding beam this season!), Kennedy (Griffin, a freshman), and Rayna (Light, a freshman) competing to make the lineups.
  • Total score: 49.275

1 Sienna Schreiber - 9.925

2 Grace Anne Davis 9.900 **Tied career-best**

3 Amari Celestine - 9.875 **First time competing on beam**

T5 Mara Titarsolej - 9.825

7 Sydney Schaffer - 9.750

T10 Amaya Marshall - 9.725

EXH: Rayna Light- unknown **Fell**

  • After three rotations: Mizzou leads 147.65— 146.050 (L) — 144.575 (SEMO) — 144.325 (NIU)

FLOOR

  • Pre-Meet Notes: New assistant coach Jackie Terpak has taken over the choreo and presentation of the FX team, and per Welker, “The Tigers have multiple routines with ‘E’ level passes and have increased our skill level to match the improved dance.” I’ll do my best to find out what those skills might entail, friends. A gymnastics pro, I am not.
  • Total score: 49.45

1 Jocelyn Moore - 9.975 **Ties career-best and ties program record**

2 Hannah Horton - 9.900

T3 Amari Celestine - 9.875

T5 Sienna Schreiber / Alonna Kratzer - 9.850

T10 Rayna Light - 9.800 (Dropped)

EXH: Kennedy Griffin- 9.900 WOW!

FINAL SCORES: MIZZOU (197.150) — LINDENWOOD (194.00) — SEMO & NIU (192.775)

Not only is the Tigers’ 197.15 a phenomenal jumping-off point, but it also is momentous in the fact that it’s their highest opening season score ever. It took Missouri seven meets (!!) last year, until February 9 against Auburn, to hit that vaunted 197 threshold (and four meets the year before, in case you’re wondering).

Additionally, as Mizzou is a part of the big, bad SEC, this is surprising... and awesome. Mostly awesome.

UP NEXT: Mizzou heads to T-Town to take on the Alabama Crimson Tide, who started their season with a 197.125 and win in the Mean Girls Super 16 Gymnastics Championship** in Las Vegas over Cal (196.850), Auburn (196.600) and UCLA (196.550). The meet will stream on SEC Network at 6pm Friday as part of their Friday Night Heights coverage.

**SIDE NOTE: How does Mizzou get involved in this event next year?!

Top 10 standings after the first weekend! The Tigers sit #3 on Floor, #4 on Beam, #10 on Vault, and #16 on Bars.

M-I-Z!!!!