Category Archives: Mizzou Gymnastics

Are you ready for some Mizzou football? And volleyball, and soccer

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Darren Hellwege, Sports Commentator

I hope you’ve all had a pleasant summer. While my reading material the last month has tended toward “Rocky Top Talk” and Alabama’s football prospectus, I’ve mostly stayed out of the sports reporting world. But, it’s time to get the keyboard cranked back up again.

Mizzou football starts fall camp Thursday, Aug. 2. The following weekend the 2012-2013 MU athletics season officially kicks off with the Tiger soccer team playing at SMU in Dallas. Mark Aug. 17 on your calendar as the first home match takes place, against Memphis. Before long our lives will once again be wrapped around Mizzou sports.

Only as I look at the schedule, even though we’ve had a long time to prepare, it still looks very strange to me. No Iowa State, no Kansas, and much to my sadness no Oklahoma State. Instead, strange and exotic locales appear. Auburn? South Carolina? LSU? Where are these places? We still have some mental adjustments to make.

In the meantime, in these next few weeks we’ll preview the fall sports, and there’s some exciting stuff to talk about.

Of course, in the Southeastern Conference even more than our past leagues, football is king and this appears to be a year with a lot of reason for optimism. We’ll go through each position and preview the rest of the SEC team by team, but let me throw out some opening reflections.

Missouri in the SEC
There are several reasons Mizzou and its players are being underrated by many observers. Now, I’m not presenting the Tigers as the 1985 Chicago Bears but this is a darn fine football team and the way some in the Deep South are talking, the Tigers are in way over their heads and should expect to be slaughtered every weekend this fall. Don’t you believe it. Missouri’s record over the last five years indicates this is a program to be feared, but most SEC-based reporters think that record has been achieved against the Northern Cornfield County Academy of the Feeble and Tumbleweed State Junior College. A lot of the prognosticators feel Texas A&M is much more prepared for life in SEC football, even though Missouri’s dominated the Aggies head to head in recent years. As football starts, you’ll hear the talk even more, and it will become all the more obnoxious. The Tigers have a very simple way to shut up the doubters: Win.

And it starts Sept. 8, a day which I believe the Tigers will begin teaching the Southeastern Conference a lesson by beating Georgia. Mizzou gets the break of all time in catching the Bulldogs with several key parts of their stout defense on suspension for various offseason mischief. Were the teams to play in November, Georgia, the team I consider the best of the East division, would be a substantial favorite. But with half of their secondary watching from the sidelines and the game being the SEC opener on Faurot Field with an atmosphere that will border on insane, I’m picking the Tigers to win, and not look back from there.

Comparing stats from one conference to another’s is misleading because when playing in the Big 12 the Tigers went up against offenses far superior to any in the SEC last year. And those who say of Mizzou, “they have a strong offense but not much of a defense” just aren’t going to be proven correct. There’s a lack of depth up front, but overall the Tigers’ defense is going to prove a lot stronger than people think, and in particular the linebacker corps is going to be surprisingly strong.

Increased size

Pat Ivey

We’ll get into this more as we do individual unit previews in the days ahead, but the Tigers addressed a pressing need in the offseason by beefing up on defense. Several key parts of the Tigers defensive units show up on the newly-released fall roster having gained significant weight over the summer. Whether it’s starters or bench players, this shows commitment on the part of the players and is another sign that among the reasons for Mizzou’s success in recent years one cannot forget Pat Ivey, the team’s outstanding strength and conditioning coach.

Some of the numbers that might impress? When you compare the roster from this time last year to the one just released by Missouri, we see that Brandon Durant’s gone from 195 pounds to 220. Darvin Ruise beefed up from 225 to 240. Cortland Browning’s added 15, and Shane Ray added 20. The biggest gainer? Defensive lineman Matt Hoch tipped the scales before the 2011 season at 260 pounds. In the 2012 media guide, he’s listed at 290. The Tigers starting front four now runs 260 at both ends (Michael Sam and Brad Madison) with tackles at 290 (Hoch) and 295 (Sheldon Richardson).

This isn’t as large as some of the top SEC teams but the difference is becoming less glaring. Bama’s front three are 319, 310 and 285; Georgia’s are 309, 351 and 269; South Carolina’s runs 267, 316, 286 and 256

Here’s my take on some of the other fall sports at Mizzou.

Soccer
Another strong recruiting class comes into Bryan Blitz’s Tiger soccer program. There are some good experienced players, especially on the back line, and this could be an exciting team to watch. Unfortunately, while Mizzou being placed in the Eastern Division of the SEC is advantageous for football, for soccer it’s a little more problematic. Every team but Vanderbilt in the East was at least .600 overall last year, and Florida beat the Tigers 2-0 at Walton Stadium last year and I don’t consider them the top of the league. This could be a real challenge for Mizzou.

Volleyball
On the other hand, I think Mizzou stands a real chance of competing for a conference championship in volleyball. Not only do the Tigers return junior superstars in All-American Lisa Henning and Molly Kreklow along with another strong bunch of recruits, but they got a huge boost when the NCAA allowed Taylor Simpson to step in and play right away after transferring from Florida State. Simpson was a top 10 recruit nationally when she signed out of high school with Nebraska, and this 6-foot-3-inch outside hitter fills the one hole this team had. The competition will be interesting. While the SEC is weaker than the Big 12 top to bottom in volleyball there are three extremely tough teams in Tennessee, Kentucky and Florida, all in the Eastern Division with Missouri.

Gymnastics
And finally, if the start of fall sports wasn’t exciting enough, defending national champ Alabama announced their 2013 schedule in women’s gymnastics over the weekend. The Crimson Tide season starts Jan. 11 at the Hearnes Center, taking on a Mizzou team that should be fun to watch, with the roster featuring the return of last year’s freshman sensation Rachel Updike and several other talented youngsters.

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Freshman Updike sets the tone as Mizzou gymnasts open with win over Iowa State

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Darren Hellwege, Sports Commentator

The Missouri Tigers gymnastics team took an early lead following a brilliant vault by freshman Rachel Updike and held on for a razor-thin victory over Iowa State in the team’s home opener at the Hearnes Center. The Tigers finished with a score of 192.675, while the Cyclones scored 192.600.

ISU’s Michelle Browning had the top all-around score with 39.025. Missouri’s Mary Burke placed second with 38.675. Burke was second to Updike in the vault and also had an excellent score in her floor exercise (9.80) and on the bars (9.80). She might well have won the overall but a stumble gave her a score of 9.30 on an otherwise solid routine on the beam.

Missouri coach Rob Drass, while pleased with the victory, saw plenty of room for improvement in his young team. “It was a semi-rough meet. First-meet jitters kind of stuff.”

He said falls like Burke’s on the beam cost the team half a point each on the bars, beam and vault and a point on the floor.

“I think you try as much as you can to make an inter-squad as much as a meet as you can, but when they know it doesn’t count, they relax. When it counts, you make mistakes or over-think, and I think we over-thought some stuff and didn’t trust our preparation. You should see our score bump up two points.”

Part of the jitters may be the youth of the Tiger team. While there are solid seniors in Burke and Allie Heizelman, the team will also rely on a bunch of freshmen as Katelyn Trevino, Briana Conkle and Updike were all major players for the Tigers on Sunday.

Rachel Updike

Rachel Updike. Photo courtesy MU Athletics

But if there were nerves before her first meet as a collegian, Updike didn’t show it, and she was the most consistent scorer for Mizzou. In addition to her tremendous vault, she had a 9.85 on the beam and a 9.875 on the floor. “I was just really excited. The girls talked about how different it was from club gym, and it was different, but it was a lot of fun,” Updike said.

And the fun should continue for Missouri fans, who get to watch the Kansas native, a former member of the US Junior National Team, for four years. 
“That’s the kind of kid that you can turn into the best gymnast in the country with the right kind of coaching,” Drass said. “Right now, we just want to get her consistent, competing week in and week out. She’ll be good…and it’s exciting.”

Some of the other highlights of the meet for the Tigers came from Tori Howard, who had a 9.8 on her floor exercise, a beautiful routine on the bars that scored a 9.85 for Heizelman, and solid 9.75 beam scores from Taylor Medrea and Cathryn Aliceaacosta.

But it was the remarkable vault by Updike that set the pace for the entire day. Her height was tremendous, and while a perfect landing, known as “sticking” a landing, can sometimes be heard throughout the building Updike’s was cat-soft. And it impressed her senior teammate, Burke. 
“Rachel did a great job in her first meet, and it really does set the pace for the rest of us. It gets everyone excited, and the energy just comes up and we’re excited to go to the next events.”

Asked about the vault, Updike said, “Right when I hit the horse I knew it was good, and I just look for the ground, and I stuck it.” Then, she gave a shrug, as if anyone could have done it. Or, perhaps as if she could do better. But, there may be some question to that, as Drass said he couldn’t find a thing wrong with the vault and that it may have earned a perfect 10. One imagines that in the right situation (and with the right judges) we’ll see Updike score a few before her years in the black and gold are finished.

And from this thrilling freshman to the strong senior class the entire Tiger team could be very good this season. If they can remove the few obvious mistakes from their routines, scores around 195 should be attainable every time out, and the Tigers 11th consecutive NCAA Regional appearance looks like a reasonable goal.

NOTES

• The start of a new season, the upcoming jump to the SEC (which has some outstanding gymnastics programs), a sharp new freshman class—there are a lot of reasons to be excited about Mizzou gymnastics. But the biggest reason wasn’t even at the Hearnes Center Saturday. It is, in fact, a few hundred yards away, just to the south of the football stadium. A new building has been constructed for Mizzou gymnastics and the Golden Girls. Drass said it will be a huge advantage when it comes to recruiting and the athletes all expressed excitement about the facility as well.

• The importance of the new home of Tiger gymnastics may be on Sunday’s scorecard. One of the building’s advantages is a “soft-landing” practice area, which has enabled Heizelman to practice while battling back from injury. Drass said that without it she almost certainly wouldn’t have been able to compete Sunday. With it? Heizelman won the event.

• There were familiar faces at Hearnes Sunday even with the start of a new season. Former Tiger Danielle Guider is now a volunteer assistant coach at Iowa State, and former Mizzou star Sarah Shire now is Director of Operations for MU. There was a new face on the Tigers side as well, as Drass welcomes assistant Jennifer Green to his staff. Green will work with the choreography and help coach beam, and already has a connection with the team. She was Updike’s coach at Kansas Gymnastics and Cheer, Inc., where she also coached several former Tigers.

WHAT’S NEXT?

• The Tigers have a long road trip planned next weekend, as they’ll take on Southern Utah in Cedar City, Utah. The Thunderbirds qualified for NCAA Regional competition last year, finishing sixth in Corvallis, Ore., after one of their top competitors was injured in warm-ups. This will be their season opener.

• The Tigers next will return home to take on Denver on Friday, Jan. 20 at Hearnes. It will be the annual “Pink Out” event, with fans encouraged to wear pink to the event. Money raised with be used for breast cancer awareness and research.

• And then…think Mizzou can’t ever work things out with Kansas? That teams never see one another when they leave a conference? Perhaps not. On Jan. 28 the Tigers travel to take on a familiar old rival, the Nebraska Cornhuskers. A former Big 12 member, the Huskers are now in the Big Ten.

Will Mizzou win or lose in the SEC? Here’s a sport-by-sport analysis

The deal has been done, Mizzou will be a member of the SEC next year. So what does it all mean? KBIA’s Darren Hellwege spent some time (that probably should have been spent doing something else) putting a lot of things in perspective, from how far you’ll have to drive to which sports will do well in the new matchups.  

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Darren Hellwege, sports commentator

First and foremost—during the entire ordeal, clear back to summer of 2009, there has been fear in the hearts of Missouri fans that the Tigers would end up without a good conference option and needing to join a mid-level conference. This shows there was significant interest in Missouri with the big boys.

The change in conferences means some crazy road trips. Here they are, by driving distance:

Arkansas (Fayetteville, Ark.)…311 miles
Vanderbilt (Nashville, Tenn.)… 433 miles
Kentucky (Lexington, Ky.)… 459 miles
Ole Miss (Oxford, Miss.)… 477 miles
Mississippi State (Starkville, Miss.)… 576 miles
Tennessee (Knoxville, Tenn.)…609 miles
Alabama (Tuscaloosa, Ala)… 620 miles
Auburn (Auburn, Ala.)…733 miles
Georgia  (Athens, GA)… 734 miles
LSU (Baton Rouge, La.)…774 miles
Texas A&M (College Station, Texas)…779 miles
South Carolina (Columbia, SC)…871 miles
Florida (Gainesville, Fla.)…1,009 miles
(Source: Google Maps)

Yeah, there aren’t any shorties, no three hour jaunts to Lawrence. But Fayetteville’s not much further than Ames. Only USC and Florida are longer than the brutal 13-hour drive to Lubbock (and are far more pleasant drives, I imagine.)

So, it’ll mean longer road trips, but still not terrible, there are four of them you can drive in less than eight hours. And how often will there be something you can’t stand to watch on television in the other Columbia, anyway?

My favorite event, the women’s basketball championship, was in Nashville this last year. The men’s was in Atlanta. That’s the worst.

We can talk about setting up non-conference schedules and all the blah, blah, blah you want, there’s no getting around it…this move kills the Missouri-Kansas rivalry, one of the most tradition-laden and wonderful in all of college sports. No basketball game against the Jayhawks? No trips to Arrowhead to see a half black and gold and half red and blue stadium wanting this win more than anything else all season? This is very sad and emblematic of the whole problem with this idiotic game of conference hopscotch the NCAA is playing. Traditions that are more than a century old are tossed out in a matter of weeks. I’m still getting used to no more trips to Lincoln, but no KU games? Unthinkable. Kind of like, well, no more games between Texas and Texas A&M.

Lastly, I cannot tell you how awful I feel at the notion of never again watching a Big 12 basketball tournament. I love this week so much. Whether walking back and forth from the grand old Municipal Auditorium to spiffy Sprint Center in Kansas City, or showing off to my fellow reporters just how cool my hometown is as we just move across the street from the Chesapeake Energy Arena (I’ll never stop calling it Ford Center) to the Cox Convention Center (which the REAL old-timers like me still call The Myriad) to go from women’s to men’s games, it’s just a wonderful time, full of old friends, walking through a building and seeing fans of all 12 schools in one place at the same time, hour after hour after hour of fantastic basketball, I just can’t stand the thought that it’s over. I know the SEC has a tournament, has great basketball, but the tourneys are in different cities.

It leads me to say a line we’re going to be saying a great deal over the next few weeks, months, and probably even years…it just ain’t gonna be the same. I know change happens, and I know people who still wish the women’s tournament was in Salina. Still, this is massive change and we’re going to lose some very, very special things. We’ve been partners with Oklahoma and Kansas and Iowa State and the rest of these schools since before any of us was born, before our parents were born. Mizzou and Kansas played basketball very few years after the game was invented, for heaven’s sake. Those traditions mean nothing in comparison to stacks of cash, I guess. Maybe for some people. I’m still against it. I get why it has to happen, but I will cling with all I got to the feeling that this isn’t a good thing, that what we’re losing is something whose value we won’t recognize until it’s too far away to ever get back.

So goodbye to Hilton Magic, to the Sooner Schooner, Willie the Wildcat and yeah, even as it chokes me up…goodbye to cheese fries at Eskimo Joes, goodbye to Pistol Pete and Ride ’em Cowboys.

These were great relationships. And they’re being throw away. Dammit. Dammit.

As for athletics, let’s break it down sport by sport.

Football

It’s a big step up in prestige. I’m not sure the SEC is that much better than the Big 12 was at its best. SEC teams compete for national championships every season, and a team from the SEC has won the BCS championship the last five years. What may be scariest about that is it’s not the same team winning five years in a row, but four different teams. Florida has two, LSU, Alabama and Auburn one each. But, the difference in any given year between them and where we saw Oklahoma, Texas, Nebraska is nominal. The middle of the pack, South Carolina, Kentucky, Arkansas—teams that make bowl games pretty consistently but aren’t in the mix for the national championship—are probably comparable if not a little behind the Big 12 equals, meaning Mizzou, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, and, when they’re in an upswing, Texas A&M. There are scrubs at the bottom of both leagues and frankly, whether Iowa State could beat Vanderbilt doesn’t mean a lot.

WHAT THE MOVE MEANS: Somewhat tougher competition, but not as much as some think. If Mizzou can come in and be successful against this competition, it will mean all the more respect for the program. It’s a plus. We never thought a few weeks ago we’d say this, but thank God for Texas A&M. Their move (and matchups with close-by LSU and Arkansas) mean it doesn’t kill MU recruiting in Texas. Words cannot express what a disaster losing Texas would be. There’s no way Mizzou has anywhere close to the success it’s had the last several years without players from the Lone Star State.

Men’s basketball

This is a pretty good step down, but that’s based upon where teams are right now, not necessarily long-term. You have one program, Kentucky, that is among the two or three atop the mountaintop all-time for basketball success. Florida’s been extremely strong of late, and I expect with ole what’s-his-name at the helm, Arkansas could be on the way up. There are some programs that typically are strong that have fallen off a little of late, like LSU, more teams that are weaker than the Big 12 and a few cupcake games like South Carolina, Mississippi and, one imagines, Tennessee will be down for a while after all their recruiting messes of late.

WHAT THE MOVE MEANS: There’s no sport where the loss of the Kansas rivalry is more sad. But overall, there’s room for Missouri to be quite competitive in the conference.

Women’s basketball

This one’s a big hit. The Big 12 has led the nation in women’s basketball and the sport’s very popular in most of the league (Mizzou being the obvious exception, unfortunately.) The SEC means THE legendary program in the sport, and I’ll admit personally the idea of going to Knoxville to watch Mizzou play the Tennessee Lady Vols is about as exciting to me as seeing Alabama football or Kentucky men’s hoop — but that’s me. Kentucky has a solid women’s basketball program, Georgia has fallen from great to merely good in recent years. Those are the only three SEC schools in the top 35 of the last RPI published by Collegiate Basketball News last season. To compare, there were five from the Big 12 (although one of those, Texas A&M, will be moving to the SEC.)

WHAT THE MOVE MEANS: Somewhat easier competition as the program tries to rise from it’s current doormat status, but a big drop in prestige and quality of opponent. The Aggies are defending national champs, and for all the friendships I’ve developed over the years with Big 12 women’s basketball people, it would be fun to still get to see Gary Blair, the Aggies outspoken and frequently hilarious coach.

Wrestling

Oh, damn. This really will be heart-rending. unbeknownst to Brian Smith when he was hired in 1998 to take over Mizzou’s wrestling program, the university hired someone close the blinds and turn off the lights, as the school intended to end varsity wrestling. Instead, Smith has built a remarkable program with national champions, numerous loyal fans, an impressive winning record. Less than 10 years after the athletic program put out a hit on the sport, Missouri was listed as the No. 1 team in the nation.

In the Big 12, they wrestle against national powerhouses like Iowa State, Oklahoma, and the single greatest dynasty in all of sports, Oklahoma State (34 national championships, more than any college or professional team in any sport.) And Mizzou competed toe-to-toe with them. Brian Smith has performed real magic with this program. It’d be a rotten shame to see it end like this.

WHAT THE MOVE MEANS: Deep doubts as to the continued existence of the sport. Everything for trying to run the program as an independent is a nightmare: the scheduling, travel, recruiting. And it will be expensive. There is precedent for a team joining another conference in one sport, for instance Boise State, Cal Poly, Cal State Bakersfield and Cal State Fullerton all wrestle in the Pac-12. It goes against everything they purport to stand for, but the one true hope is that maybe the Big 10 will accept Mizzou as a wrestling-only affiliate. There are a few wrestling-only conferences, such as the Eastern Wrestling League, which includes programs like West Virginia and Pittsburgh. There are ways to keep the program going, but this move is definitely very, very bad news for Mizzou wrestlers and their fans.

Softball

This one’s interesting. Top to bottom the SEC is not in the Big 12’s class. But there are a few really great teams in the SEC. Alabama, Florida and Georgia were all in the top six of the NCAA rankings last season. But the SEC had more in the top 15, while there were six Big 12 schools in the top 15 (as is the case in many of these, the move of Texas A&M changes things a lot, the Aggies have a pretty good softball team.)

THE MISSOURI MOVE MEANS: It’s a less prestigious conference, but not terrible by any means. With two of the top Big 12 teams moving to the SEC, this is one sport in which the additions are a major upgrade.

Baseball

Very exciting for the baseball guys. The SEC is considered by many to be No. 1 when it comes to baseball. We’re talking two-time defending national champion South Carolina, one of the traditional powers in LSU (six championships, most recently 2009) and several other great programs. Of the 12 schools last year, more than half made the NCAA tourney and along with USC’s championship, they had the runners-up in Florida while Vanderbilt tied for third.

But it’s more than that. Anyone who’s ever played baseball in Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, or really even Oklahoma in the early spring has to smile at the idea of playing, instead, in Tallahassee Florida.

WHAT THE MOVE MEANS: After seven consecutive seasons of at least 30 wins, the Tigers have struggled the last couple, finishing with a very rare losing record in 2010. This move will definitely help with recruiting, but standards are going to be raised and this slump can’t last a lot longer or the seat under Tim Jamieson may start warming a little. Jamieson is the longest-serving coach at Mizzou and deserves the time to rebuild what has been a very strong program. This one will be very interesting to watch.

Volleyball

This one’s complicated. Especially before Nebraska bolted for the Big Ten, the Big 12 was a strong conference in volleyball (if somewhat underappreciated nationally.) The SEC has only one team (Florida) currently in the top 25 rankings, but got six teams into the NCAA tournament last season. The Big 12 got five, and that’s if you count Nebraska. On paper, the SEC’s stronger, but I think some of that is just reputation. Tennessee and LSU are typically top 25 programs. You can look at it as a bit of a downgrade (at least in my opinion) or not, but what does it mean?

WHAT THE MOVE MEANS: I think it’s a heck of an opportunity. If Wayne Kreklow continues to recruit the way he has the last two seasons, this is a team that can compete right now for an SEC championship. And there aren’t a lot of MU teams that you can say that about. I think it’s a positive for Mizzou.

Soccer

Did I mention “Thank God for Texas A&M”? This is the pretty good Big 12 sending two of its best teams to an SEC that has been Florida and not much else. The Big 12’s not been a real world-beater in this sport, either. Each conference has only four in the current Top Drawer Soccer Top 40. But of those four from the Big 12, two are Missouri and Texas A&M, and they are in recent history the two best teams in the league. This move would be a pretty substantial upgrade for the SEC.

WHAT THE MOVE MEANS: Like baseball, players will enjoy the idea of a better climate. If Mizzou keeps moving up as they have, this is another sport where they can contend for an SEC crown. Mizzou stood toe to toe against Florida this season and could very easily have won this game with a break or two. There’s nobody in the SEC I’d consider a lot better than MU.

Gymnastics

This may be the biggest upgrade of them all. With the loss of Nebraska, only three teams—Oklahoma, Iowa State and Mizzou—had varsity gymnastics. The SEC had more than that in the nation’s top 10 after last season, including Georgia (with 10 NCAA championships) and national champ Alabama. Four in the top ten10 seven in the top 25. Yeah, they do gymnastics in the SEC.

WHAT THE MOVE MEANS: Expect an increased profile for the sport at Mizzou as a lot more competitions with significant meaning take place. Mizzou could struggle to compete at first, but with only two seniors and two juniors on this year’s squad, they could have a lot of experience for their top performers in a couple of years. If Rob Drass plays his cards right, it’s a great move for Mizzou gymnastics.

The other guys

Swimming: The SEC in general is a lot better, several top programs in both men’s and women’s.

Golf: Golf’s kind of the same story, with one superpower in the Big 12 (in this case Oklahoma State) but a stronger overall conference in the SEC. Now, that’s men. For the women? There are currently seven SEC teams in the top 20 in Golfstat rankings. The Big 12 has just one…Texas A&M.

Cross country: It’s a bit of a downgrade in cross country, where Oklahoma State and Oklahoma are the only teams from either in the top 15 (Arkansas is 16.)

Track: Call it a jump ball as the Big 12 is No. 1 and SEC No. 2 in conference rankings but they’re very close among the men (but in last year’s rankings prior to the NCAA, guess who was No. 1 in the nation? Texas A&M) In women’s track, it’s a bit larger downgrade, but again the Aggies are among the top teams in the nation.

Tennis: It’s a slight upgrade in women’s tennis.

SEC to be Aggie-free, for now.

Bernie Machen, the chairman of the Southeastern Conference’s presidents and chancellors committee, reportedly indicated the SEC would stick to its twelve team model until further notice.

In a quote disseminated by Jimmy Burch of the Star-Telegram, league officials said “future considerations may make it advantageous to expand.”

The discussions are believed to have involved criteria for expansion but without any decision on when realigment could actually happen.

Multiple A&M sources contacted Sunday said they were not surprised by the SEC’s decision and characterized it as part of a process A&M must go through — along with Tuesday’s public hearing in Austin with Texas’ House Committee on Higher Education — to avoid potential legal snares associated with a move to another league.

-Jimmy Burch, Star-Telegram

Texas A&M board of regents will meet tomorrow to discuss how to best ready themselves for SEC consideration and membership, according to multiple media outlets.

Stay tuned. No 14-team model means no Mizzou, obviously, and they’ve professed public disinterest from the beginning of the Texas A&M hype. That could have more to do with a potential for legal recourse from the conference, especially with Baylor’s recent threats to sue Texas A&M.

Stay tuned.

Mizzou reportedly on SEC’s expansion radar; Texas A&M as good as gone.

Mike Alden adamantly denied reports Missouri is considering, or is being considered for, a move to the SEC. (Photo by Nick Gerhardt)

According to ESPN’s Doug Gottlieb, a source familiar with the discussions about Texas A&M’s apparently inevitable departure for the SEC says Mizzou could be the next institution to spurn the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference.

“The SEC now likely will pursue Florida State, Clemson and Missouri, a source told ESPN’s Gottlieb, though Missouri athletic director Mike Alden said the school was not in talks with any conferences about a possible move.”

Clemson University president James Barker and Florida State president Eric Barron both denied the reports, according to the Associated Press.

Mizzou fans understand the reliability of denials. Early in the month of March, Mike Anderson denied that he was considering a job at Arkansas. He wanted to discuss Missouri basketball, not some job opening down south.

“I’m here,” Anderson said. “We’re talking about Kanas. That’s what we’re getting ready for; that’s what I want to talk about.”

To be fair, Alden denied this report a bit more adamantly, emphatically telling the St. Louis Post-Dispatch “no,” no less than six times.

Mizzou flirted with expansion to the Big 10 last year, but the conference ultimately absorbed Nebraska into the fold. Missouri said at the time that they would listen if the Big Ten beckoned. Now, playing with fewer teams in an inarguably weakened conference, and the so-called strongest division in college football (just ask them) reportedly courting the midwestern university, Mizzou is going to play hard to get?

If your head is spinning, consider this. ESPN ran the story about Denver Broncos back-up quarterback Tim Tebow backing up Kyle Orton when the club released a depth chart. “Breaking news” they called it, a perplexing designation because Tebow’s position on the depth chart never changed, despite trade rumors for the starting quarterback. The point is that ESPN thrives on hype.
Tim Tebow drives web traffic; conference realignment does as well.

For a reliable counterbalance, refer to the Pete Thamel of the New York Times, who tweeted:

“A DIFFERENT high ranking SEC official just called to say (angrily) that any report involving Clemson, FSU and Missouri is totally wrong.”

The Oklahoman’s Barry Tramel, citing OU sources, says Oklahoma would explore a move to the Pac-12 if Missouri leaves, with Kansas and Oklahoma State riding shotgun in the Sooner schooner to the predominately West Coast conference. Colorado helped push the Pac-10 to the freshly rebranded Pac-12 last year after a separation from the Big 12 of their own.

SEC presidents will meet Sunday–one by speakerphone–at a secret location to discuss the admission of Texas A&M to the conference, according to the New York Times. The Times’ source put the chances of a vote against A&M’s admission at “30 to 40 percent.”

Stick with KBIA Sports for developments.

Tiger gymnasts take on national powers at NCAA Regionals

By Darren Hellwege, KBIA Sports Director

After one of the most successful seasons in program history last year, 2011 was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Missouri Tigers gymnastics program. They graduated an outstanding class of four athletes, including All-American Sarah Shire. They came into the new year with just one senior. Every excuse was available.

Instead, the team fought through early season losses, and showed continuing improvement to the point that now, for the 10th straight year, Mizzou is headed to an NCAA Regional. This weekend the Tigers will compete at the Lloyd Nobel Center in Norman, Oklahoma with the host Sooners, Utah, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Washington also taking part.

While participating in an NCAA regional has become the standard for this perennial top-25 program, there are goals to be achieved this weekend.

Tiger head coach Rob Drass said, “We’d like to come out one or two, that may be a bit of a reach for us. You gotta set your goals high. Honestly, our goal is to reach the top 25, we’re ranked No. 33 right now, and would like to improve that before the end of the season. The team has been training well, we kind of got back on track at the Big 12 championships.”

Mizzou hosted this year’s conference meet, won by Nebraska in their final year of Big 12 competition before leaving for the Big 10 next year. Missouri finished fourth, out of four teams, but was quite happy with their overall performance including a score of 194.975 and an All-Around championship for Tiger junior Mary Burke.

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Nebraska takes Big 12 gymnastics title, Mizzou’s Burke first in all-around

By Darren Hellwege, KBIA Sports Director

In their final year of competition in the Big 12 conference, the Nebraska Cornhuskers left with a bang as they won the 2011 conference title in gymnastics at the championship tournament held in Columbia’s Hearnes Center on Saturday. The Huskers won with a score of 196.775, edging out Oklahoma with a 196.500. Iowa State finished third and Missouri, the host school, in fourth.

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However, the Tigers did have reasons to celebrate, including the top all-around gymnast in Mary Burke. Burke scored 39.30 overall to take the title, and three of the top fourth all-around finishers came from Mizzou, with Lauren Swankoski finishing 3rd and Alex Gold fourth.

While finishing fourth wasn’t the goal of the day, the Tiger athletes and head coach Rob Drass seemed quite pleased with their performance. “We’re trying to get what we can now, and get ready for the future,” said Drass of his team. After having the greatest season in MU Gymnastics history last year, including the championship of an NCAA regional, this year’s team featured only one senior (Gold) and while they finished 6-9, the team showed steady improvement through the season and is optimistic about the future.

Which is not to say this year’s done. The Tigers are eligible for NCAA Regional play, and will find out Monday where they’ll be headed for the regionals. Drass feels that with the team seeming more relaxed now, they may be able to compete as well in the regional as they have all year. “We really put a complete meet together today. Now, the kids can compete looser.”

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Mizzou Athletics Hall of Fame welcomes six at induction ceremony

By Darren Hellwege, KBIA Sports Director

“I will always bleed black and gold until the day I die.”

With those words, an emotional Khris Whelan wrapped up an evening’s celebration of the greatness of Mizzou athletics, accepting induction along with five other all-time Tiger greats into the University of Missouri Athletics Hall of Fame Friday night at the Courtyard by Marriot in Columbia. Whelan, a two-time All-American for Bob Kopniski (Hall of Fame class of 2000) was joined in this year’s class by football center Scott Anderson, Madill “Bud” Gartiser who was one of the best hurdlers of his time in the world, baseball and football star Hank Kuhlman, and the athletes chosen the top male and female Tigers of the first decade of the 21st century, quarterback Brad Smith and volleyballer Lindsey Hunter.

Tiger football and basketball play-by-play announcer Mike Kelly served as Master of Ceremonies for the event, and gave the crowd one of the biggest thrills of the night when he recognized the service to Mizzou of John Kadlec (Hall of Fame class of 1996) who recently announced his retirement after being a part of Mizzou athletics as player, coach, announcer and administrator for over 60 years. “If you think about the longevity this man has had, and the service he has given to this institution, and in particular the athletic department, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find any former student-athlete who’s served MU like this man has. I love him, and I’ll miss our private 4-hour conversation on Saturday,” remarked Kelly before the crowd recognized Kadlec with a long standing ovation.

Mizzou Director of Athletics Mike Alden highlighted the importance of the event, telling KBIA, “we’ve done a good job of impressing on our current athletes what Hank Kuhlmann and Madill Gartiser have done for our programs. Folks that are currently part of our student-athlete group understand that they’re standing on the shoulders of people like Hank Kuhlmann and Brad Smith, it’s important and our student-athletes really respect that.”

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Mizzou gymnastics rebounds, downs SEMO

By Darren Hellwege, KBIA Sports Director

The Mizzou gymnastics squad bounced back from last week’s disappointing performance at the Cancun Classic by defeating Southeast Missouri State at Saturday’s “Beauty and the Beast” event at Hearnes Center. Tori Howard and Mary Burke both scored 9.85 scores on excellent floor routines to give Mizzou the upper hand, with the Tigers scoring 194.925 to 192.825 for SEMO.

“I’m very happy with that score,” said Mizzou head coach Rob Drass. “I’d rather lose with a good score like that than to win without scoring so well.”

The Tiger lost last week in Cancun, Mexico to West Virginia, scoring just 191.975. “I thought we were a strong team tonight. We had a much better bar set, beam was way, way better. I think we were solid the whole way through,” said Drass, whose Tigers are now 1-1 on the year.

Sophomore Lauren Swankoski led Tiger scoring on the vault with a 9.85, while Burke’s 9.8 was the top beam score. Burke was joined by Allie Heizelman with 9.8 scores on the bars. “I think I had a good performance, and with the team overall, we proved that this is our team, not last week, and we paved the way for the rest of the season,” said Burke.

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