COLUMBIA, Mo. – Mizzou rules the mats. Such was the case in 2021-22, an otherwise volatile year for the sport at the University of Missouri, an academic year defined more by turnover and disappointment than by big results.
There were two exceptions to the trend: a breakthrough gymnastics season and another championship for the wrestling program.
Shannon Welker’s gymnastics team made their first appearance at the NCAA championships in more than a decade, then posted their best finish in team history, taking fifth place at the national competition. On the wrestling mats, Brian Smith’s wandering Tigers left the Mid-American Conference to join old friends in the Big 12, then quickly won the conference championship en route to another top 10 at the national meet. .
Now that Mizzou’s athletic year is nearly over — a few track athletes will be competing in the NCAA outdoor championships — it’s time to hand out some gear. Unsurprisingly, the two most successful programs of the year swept post-dispatch playoff honors.
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Gymnast Sienna Schreiber is the PD’s pick for Mizzou Female Athlete of the Year, edging out some of her talented teammates. On the men’s side, national champion wrestler Keegan O’Toole is the easy choice for Male Athlete of the Year, just ahead of record running back Tyler Badie.
Welker, in his ninth season at MU, is the obvious Mizzou Coach of the Year, while a couple of his top freshmen are tied for Mizzou Newcomer of the Year: Amari Celestine and Jocelyn Moore.
“We had the right kids who were ready to believe,” Welker said. “I think it all kind of came together. This was our year to get there and make changes to our program. And we did.
Otherwise, it was one of the least celebrated years for Mizzou’s team sports since the school joined the Southeastern Conference a decade ago. MU men compete in eight SEC sports — indoor and outdoor athletics count separately — and only two have finished in either the top half of the SEC standings or the top half of the conference championship. . Final results: cross-country (third) and golf (fifth). At the bottom of the standings, Steve Bieser’s baseball program made progress at home plate but still finished 13th overall in the SEC and missed the conference tournament, while men’s basketball finished 12th, which cost coach Cuonzo Martin his job.
On the women’s side, six of the 11 teams finished near the bottom of the SEC standings in conference play or conference championships: golf (13th), soccer (13th), tennis (12th), indoor track (14th), outdoor track (12th) and volleyball (14th). The softball team made a late run to host an NCAA Regional but finished only seventh in the conference and failed to qualify for the NCAA Super Regionals.
Mizzou’s male athletes have earned just four first-team All-SEC selections, tied with Auburn for the least in United’s eight sports.
On the women’s side, of MU Sports’ 11 All-SEC teams, the Tigers have produced seven first-team selections, trailing only Mississippi State (three) and Vanderbilt (two).
But in gymnastics, the Tigers earned five first-team honors, led by sophomore Schreiber, who finished second nationally on balance beam at the NCAA championships with a brilliant 9.95 routine on sport’s biggest stage. The Georgia native led Mizzou with nine event titles during the regular season, five on beam and four in all-around. In 10 regular season games, she scored 9.9 or better eight times on beam.
“You could tell if you watched her compete, she enjoyed competition and enjoyed everything that comes with competition in the SEC,” Welker said. “She never went too high, never too low and just did what she could do. And she understood what her abilities were.
In March, O’Toole became Mizzou Wrestling’s ninth individual NCAA champion, crossing the NCAA championships in Detroit with five straight wins in the 165-pound class to finish the season undefeated, 25-0. As a sophomore – the extra COVID year gave him another year of eligibility – O’Toole was named Big 12 Wrestler of the Year on top of his long list of accolades.
“That’s what Keegan was born to do,” Tigers coach Brian Smith said after the national game.
Back to gymnastics. Under Welker, the Tigers had made incremental progress in the busy SEC, but broke through this year with three conference wins, Arkansas, LSU and Georgia and twice broke the program record for team score the highest in history.
Unlike other teams on campus, Welker gymnasts have figured out how to compete against elite programs in a sport that the SEC typically dominates.
“I’m just glad I had the time I needed to do it honestly,” Welker said. “Not everyone gets that time. It took us eight or nine years to really get started here. But getting people to believe, getting the right people on board who believe they can do it is really the hardest thing. Then you have to find the talent to back it up.
Welker’s two outstanding freshmen took turns taking the spotlight and shared top newcomer honors. Celestine finished second in vault (9.950) at the NCAA championships, while Moore was named first-team All-American for her regular-season prowess in vault, including four event titles.