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Mizzou’s balancing act not enough to take a win at Kentucky

The Tigers had a chance after three rotations, but just couldn’t get it done.

Cal Tobias/Rock M Nation

Listen, we knew coming into this meet that it was going to take four really solid rotations to have a shot against a top-10 Kentucky squad. Add in that it was on the road in front of a packed crowd at the storied Rupp Arena, and it makes it even harder. There really was little to no room for error tonight, and having four strong rotations is... well... something Mizzou is still searching for.

In Wednesday’s Zoom call, Mizzou head coach Shannon Welker talked about wanting to be better, and how he urged the team to refocus. “We got off to a really good start [this season],” he said. “We’re still doing well. But we also have to rise with the tide a little bit here. And we know that Kentucky’s a really good team. They’re doing well this year. We know that it’s going to be tough anywhere to beat them, especially at home, but we’re gonna go in and focus on our own team and making some improvements that we’ve been working on and instituting those into routines. And I think if we do those, then we walk away and have gotten better and that’s really our goal this weekend is to get better.”

So did they, as Coach opined, “get better?” Well, in some rotations and in some performances for sure. In others, well, there’s work to do. This meet was just a whirlwind of emotions, you guys.

Let’s recap.

Rotation One— MIZ Bars | UK Vault

With the no. 1 vault team in the country kicking off the meet on said event, it was important, as Shannon had mentioned this week, to ATTACK from the start, and that’s exactly what Mizzou did. For every stick on the vault on Kentucky’s end, Mizzou countered with a really good routine.

Kyra Burns got things started for the Tigers with a solid 9.80 (her season best is 9.825), before freshman Rayna Light, in just her third official bars routine, garnered a season-best 9.85. Hollyn Patrick notched a season-high (and 2nd-best career score) 9.90, and Jocelyn Moore followed THAT up with a 9.90 of her own (also a season-best, and her 2nd-best career score). Sienna Schreiber’s lil’ hop on the dismount might’ve knocked her score down a little bit to a 9.825 (just off her season best 9.875), before Mara Titarsolej closed it out with a stick and a gorgeous 9.95 that would end up being enough to take the individual title. Mizzou’s total score, 49.425, is their best of the season, and JUST off their program record, 49.450.

As for Kentucky, they had several stuck landings and were led by Makenzie Wilson’s 9.95 in the anchor spot. They also garnered a 9.925 from Arianna Patterson, a 9.90 from Raena Worley, and two 9.825s from the freshman duo of Delaynee Rodriguez and Cecily Rizo. Kentucky’s 49.500 was just off their season-best, but was a very strong start to Rock Star Night at Rupp.

After one rotation, it was shaping up to be a tight one, with the Wildcats leading by just 0.075, 49.500—49.425.

Rotation Two— MIZ Vault | UK Bars

With Mizzou on its most improved event and Kentucky on its “worst” event, I hoped we might see the Tigers make up a little ground, but instead, it moved in the wrong direction slightly. Not a single Tiger hit their season-best on vault, but a few were close. Sienna led off with a stick she fought mightily for and a 9.80 (best 9.85), but Rayna faltered a bit with a big step on the dismount and a 9.70 (it was dropped), and Grace Anne Davis’ Yurchenko full was just a bit off, resulting in a step back and a 9.80 (best 9.875). Amari Celestine’s Yurchenko 1 12 was powerful as hell, as she ended up so high and far from the horse. Truly awesome stuff, and a 9.85 to go with it (9.90 best). Freshman Hannah Horton’s Y 1 12 was also solid, earning her a 9.90 (9.95 best from last week, I think?) before Jocelyn anchored the rotation in what I thought was perfection, but the judges thought was only a 9.90. All this added up to a 49.250 rotation score, which is 4th (of 6) in terms of their scores this season.

As for Kentucky, they countered with a 49.300 bars score and were able to drop a 9.75 while counting only 9.8s and up. Claire Stipich, performing in her first collegiate meet, garnered a 9.80 to match fellow freshman friend, Cecily Rizo. Hailey Davis led off with a 9.85, before Rodriguez (a freshman) and wunderkind Raena Worley earned a 9.90 and 9.95, respectively.

After two rotations, Kentucky extended their lead just a smidge to 0.125, 98.800—98.675.

Rotation Three— MIZ Floor | UK Beam

The Fab Floor was in full display in Lexington, and what a joy it was to watch (more on that later). While only two Tiger FX Queens, Amari & Jocelyn, either scored or tied their season-bests (9.95 and 9.975, respectively), everyone else was pretty darn close. Sienna led off with a 9.85 (best 9.925) and Rayna followed up with a 9.825 (best 9.90), before the judges stole 9.9s away from both the freshmen, Hannah Horton (video linked) & Kennedy Griffin. Strategy-wise, Coach said he liked using Amari (video below) between the two freshmen, as it’s someone with more experience. It was a great choice, and Mizzou got its second best score of the year, 49.525. Crazy how only two bests and you’re still scoring in the mid-49s, right? These routines, especially the couple at the end, set up Mizzou so well...

The Wildcats had a chance to add to their lead with a solid beam routine (they got started before the first FX routine), but faltered, only having three scores 9.85 and above in the freshmen Rodriguez & Brose, and Raena’s 9.90 in the five-spot. It was actually kinda crazy to see go down, as it seemed as if they were just handing the meet over to Mizzou on a BBN-themed platter. First Rizo fell, earning a 9.125 which had to be dropped, and then the normally awesome duo of Magnelli and Patterson each notched scores in the 9.6-range due to big balance checks. With its 48.85 score, not only did UK fall behind, but they also lost their streak of not scoring below a 49 on an apparatus which was set in March 2023.

That’s just the way the tumbling bounces sometimes, I guess.

After three rotations, Mizzou takes the lead by 0.200, 148.200—147.600, setting up for a truly exhilarating finale.

Famous last words tweets?

Rotation Four— MIZ Beam | UK Floor

With Mizzou in the driver’s seat of this thing, they proceeded to drive this thing right off a cliff, Thelma & Louise style. It was... not great.

Amari, who has been great on beam this season and really excelled in the leadoff role last week, had the most severe case of the “yips” I’d ever seen, as she bobbled on her wolf turn right from the start, and then fell off the beam on an early acrobatic series. On top of that, she also had at least three more severe balance checks that made me wonder if the beam was greased. Frankly, it was alarming to see from the normally very sure-footed junior.

As announcers will tell you, falls can be contagious, but really, so can just an “off” performance by someone you normally can count on, so I held my breath anxiously as Rayna took to the beam. She didn’t fall, mind you, but she wasn’t great either, and with a couple bigger balance checks and a step back on the dismount, she only earned a 9.675, which Mizzou would have to count.

Amaya Marshall returned to the beam this week after taking the last week off (I don’t know if it was planned last week, or they decided last minute after the big bars fall to remove her), but she did a nice job earning a 9.75 (just off her 9.775 season best) before beam specialist Sydney Schaffer had what I thought was a pretty good routine that was scored a bit low, receiving a 9.75 (best 9.875). The saving Grace (get it?) of the whole beam operation was Grace Anne Davis, whose only noticeable mistake was leading with her chest a bit too much on her dismount. She earned a strong 9.85, and I still had hope for Sienna in the anchor spot as she was coming off a 9.975 last week (and a fall the week before). Unfortunately, she apparently remembered two weeks back instead of one, and fell on a tumbling pass, thus nailing Mizzou’s coffin shut.

What pained me even more was watching Kennedy in the exhibition role excel and likely — I’ll have to check with Shannon — score a higher score than perhaps any of her teammates. Is a change afoot? Should the score hold up — she got a 9.825 in EXH last week — I’d be fully into it for her to get out there officially and see what happens; she appears ready and hungry.

In the end, the 48.400 rotation score was so not good that my Twitter friend Drew Porche, gym stats extraordinaire, said it had been since January 29, 2021 that Mizzou had to count a 9.3 score or lower on beam. That fateful day 1,116 days ago was also the last time Mizzou had a beam score this low (that one was a —— long dramatic gasp — 47.80). This kinda debacle also brings that whole “no misses” contest that runs the course of the season. Another SEC team bites the dust. [sad face]

Coming off a pretty bad beam rotation themselves, Kentucky needed to shine on the floor to regain the lead and get a win, and that is exactly what they did, and what great teams do. Remember the LSU meet when we marveled at how Mizzou only had counting scores 9.90 or higher? Well, the same thing applied here for the Cats, but it was even better, as the LOWEST score they counted was a 9.925 from Makenzie Wilson (they dropped the lead-off 9.85). Bella Magnelli (career-high), Hailey Davis (tied career-high) and freshman Creslyn Brose all earned 9.95 before Raena Worley shut down the whole place with her near-perfect and fully deserving 9.975. All that added up to an astounding 49.750, which is LSU-levels of FX greatness (and that’s saying something). However...

I have an opinion to share on this.

I have to say, while some of Kentucky’s floor competitors looked like they were having a great time out there (Magnelli, Brose, Worley), others just looked a bit stiff, a bit too rehearsed. The smiles looked more plastered on, as opposed to the full-on joy we are used to seeing on our Tigers (or the LSU Tigers, for that matter). Weirdly enough, the first gym meet I went to in person was the MIZ-UK meet last year, and I remember thinking the same thing. They just didn't consistently radiate joy. That’s not to knock the Cats (well, maybe a little), as their scores clearly weren’t impacted, but give me a Mizzou (or LSU, minus Livvy) FX any day of the damn week. They have the most fun, and it’s contagious, no matter who you’re rooting for.

After four rotations, the Wildcats took back the lead and mauled our Tigers in the Battle of Cats by 0.75, 197.35—196.60.

MVE (most valuable event)

  • Mara’s bars routine— It was the only event she did, and it was phenomenal.
  • Amari & Joci’s floor routines— just gorgeous, perfect, chef’s kiss.

Final Thoughts

It’s not over. This is not the beginning of the end of being a “Gymnastics School.” Mizzou is still good, friends. But like any good team, they have a tendency to be inconsistent in some rotations, and have yet to put together four full rotations. Just look at UCLA, for instance, whose scores range from two 196.55 scores to 197.10 to 197.825 to 198.07. Or Arkansas, who — after scoring three consecutive low-to-mid 197s to start the season, have since scored a 196.200 and a 196.05 tonight. [you really hate to see THAT one, right?]

I’m sure Mizzou will do what they do best, and get back to some basics. They’ll watch some film, the coaches will make notes, and then they’ll meet and discuss. The whole meet wasn’t bad, y’all. and a few less balance checks on beam and this score is a whole lot better (falls aside).

I believe. And you should too.

UP NEXT: Mizzou heads to St. Charles Family Arena for a podium meet against no. 6 Florida, no. 25 Illinois, and fellow mid-MO team, Lindenwood, who they’re facing for the second time. The action kicks off at 6pm on SEC Network.