MO State HS Sports

Mizzou Morning Matters

092223_Mizzou Morning Matters

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Who’s going to be first?

We all know it’s been some time since a Mizzou team captured an NCAA national championship. For years, Brian Smith‘s wrestling program has been on the cusp — and is very much in the hunt this year, sitting at No. 2 in the national rankings.

We need to recognize another contender: After last week’s history-making match, Mizzou gymnastics has climbed to No. 3 in the national rankings — that’s higher than any program in the Southeastern Conference — and has the ingredients to be among the last teams standing on the mats at April’s NCAA Championships in Fort Worth, Texas. At last Saturday’s Mizzou Invitational, the Tigers tallied the highest season-opening score (197.150) in program history. Just three other teams around the country hit the 197 mark the first week of the season: No. 1 and two-time defending NCAA champion Oklahoma, No. 2 Utah and No. 4 Alabama. (More on the Tide here soon.)

Tigers coach Shannon Welker, now in his 11th season at Mizzou and two years removed from a fifth-place NCAA finish, has put together another championship contender. The Tigers hit on all 24 of their routines Saturday and, every bit as promising, hit on five of six exhibitions routines.

Sienna Schreiber

“That showed me two things,” Welker told me this week. “One, they’re prepared mentally and physically. And two, by having all those kids in the exhibition spots, that showed me that we’ve got a decent amount of depth in many events.”

Breaking the 197 threshold early in the season was an internal goal for the program, Welker said. It should pay off in the rankings for weeks to come.

“Just like in football, whether it’s right or wrong, if you get ranked high early on, it’s a lot harder to fall,” he said. “So for us to be ranked there, just from a perception standpoint early on, that’s really good. Then we capture some of that subjective bias hopefully in our favor from judges as we move along.”

A handful of performances stood out Saturday: It was no surprise to see Amari Celestine share the vault title, but she’s added the balance beam to her repertoire and scored 9.875 in her first collegiate competition in the event.

“She’s a junior, and that’s hard for kids to break into those events late in their career,” Welker said. “I thought that was actually really impressive that she was able to do as well as she did.”

Speaking of debuts, freshman Hannah Horton shared the vault title (9.875) and took second on the floor exercise (9.9) in her first collegiate meet.

“I wasn’t really surprised,” Welker said, “because I think I was anticipating that would be what she did. But it was nice to see that she performed at where we felt like she was capable.”

Mizzou opened the season ranked No. 12 in the WCGA preseason poll but surged to No. 3 with Saturday’s showing. Of course, the Tigers’ postseason ranking will be the true measure of the 2024 season, but there’s value in carrying that number next to their name this early in the season, especially for branding and recruiting.

“It comes at a great time,” Welker said. “We’re doing a much better job as a university with our marketing and digital media and all those things. … There’s been times in the past we’ve done really well but no one knew because we didn’t market it as well. So this is really great. Definitely being in that top five and top three, that’s awesome to start the year. A ton of coaches around the country are messaging us, so certainly that helps with recruiting, especially early on it sets the tone for what the expectation is, not only from the outside, but almost more importantly from what we expect internally from our student-athletes.”

The Tigers carry their new ranking into a pivotal SEC opener Friday at No. 4 Alabama. When the teams last met last March, the Tigers closed their dual schedule with a victory over the Crimson Tide — the program’s first head-to-head win over Alabama.

For the first time in his decade-plus at Mizzou, Welker missed a practice in late December — but for a good reason. He was among six Mizzou head coaches who attended the Cotton Bowl in Dallas — he brought along his teenage son, Ian — and cheered the Tigers at AT&T Stadium in the victory over Ohio State. That bonding experience, he said, was unique in his time in Columbia but reflected the current culture at Mizzou.

“There are coaches who have been successful at Missouri for a while, like Brian Smith, and myself to some degree who have been doing some good stuff within our programs,” Welker said. “So when we go to Dallas — and Brian was there, too — we get to see that (the football team) is operating at that level and it just reinforces some great things we’re all doing. It’s awesome to see that this is everywhere now. Not just in this program or that program. It’s just what we do as an athletic department now.

“That’s what I said to my wife when I got home. What was cool is just all these people, whether they were employees or fans, there were like 50,000 people in Dallas to cheer on the University of Missouri. And I thought that was great team building for us in the department to have six or seven head coaches there together.”


Eli Drinkwitz’s football team finished the season ranked No. 8 in the final AP and coaches’ polls. Among the 65 AP ballots, the Tigers were ranked as high as No. 4 and as low as No. 14. It’s the ninth time in the history of the AP poll that Mizzou finished in the top 10 and the third top-10 finish in the last 17 seasons.

The Tigers finished No. 4 in 2007 and No. 5 in 2013. Only four current SEC programs have more top-10 finishes since 2007:

Alabama: 16

Georgia: 10

Florida, LSU: 5

Missouri, South Carolina:  3

Auburn, Texas A&M: 2

Arkansas, Ole Miss, Tennessee: 1

Kentucky, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt: 0

Just for fun, here’s how the last 10 teams that finished the season No. 8 in the AP poll opened in the AP poll the next season and where they finished:

2022: Washington … No. 10 preseason in 20203, finished 14-1, No. 2 (College Football Playoff)

2021: Notre Dame … No. 5 preseason in 2022, finished 9-4, No. 18

2020: Cincinnati … No. 8 preseason in 2021, finished 13-1, No. 4 (College Football Playoff)

2019: Alabama … No. 3 preseason in 2020, finished 13-0, No. 1 (College Football Playoff)

2018: Florida and Georgia tied at No. 7 (no No. 8) … UF preseason was No. 8 in 2019, finished 11-2, No. 6; UGA preseason No. 3, finished 12-2, No. 4

2017: Penn State … No. 10 preseason in 2018, finished 9-4, No. 17

2016: Florida State … No. 3 preseason in 2017, finished 7-6, unranked

2015: Houston … No. 15 preseason in 2016, finished 9-4, unranked

2014: Georgia Tech … No. 16 preseason in 2015, finished 8-5, unranked

2013: Clemson … No. 16 preseason in 2014, finished 10-3, No. 15

Mizzou also finished No. 8 in the Coaches poll, ranging from No. 5 (Utah’s Kyle Whittingham and Louisiana-Monroe’sTerry Bowden) to No. 11 (Navy’s Brian Newberry and Maryland’s Mike Locksley.)


This week’s retirement news from Alabama coach Nick Saban captivated the sports world and an old friend and teammate shared some thoughts with Mizzou Morning Matters. Here’s what retired Mizzou coach Gary Pinkel — Saban’s teammate and fellow staffer at Kent State — had to say about his friend’s decision to step away from coaching: “How do you possibly come up with words that do justice to all that Nick has achieved and all that he has meant to college football? I’m sure most people will look at the championships, the wins, the awards and all of those things that stand out on paper. However, from my perspective as a former teammate and colleague, I would reflect on all of the lives he has transformed and impacted on and off the field. He has had a remarkable influence on the game that we all love so much and I’m glad to see him step away on his own terms, he earned that opportunity. I’m pleased for Nick, Terry and their family for this next stage of life, and I know he’ll continue to influence lives in meaningful ways. Just because you retire from the coaching profession, you’re always a coach, and that’s a special thing to take with you. He’s the best of all time and I’m proud to call him a friend. Welcome to retirement Nick, it’s well-deserved!”


Just a small word of gratitude here for Coach Saban from me: He was gracious enough to write the foreword for Gary’s biography that I co-wrote in 2017, “The 100-Yard Journey.” Once we put in the request for Coach Saban to write the book’s opening, we weren’t sure what to expect from Gary’s former teammate. It turned out, he wrote a beautiful, thoughtful foreword about their time playing and coaching together – and much longer than we expected! — that I still contend is the best written chapter in the book.


If you didn’t catch Mizzou football’s final mini movie of the year, the recap of the Cotton Bowl victory, watch here:


MMM can never have too much Cody Schrader. With the national champion crowned on Monday, the 2023 season statistics are officially official — and Mizzou’s Schrader finished the year as the NCAA leader in rushing yards per game at 125.2. He’s the first Mizzou player in program history to lead the country in rushing — and just the eighth player overall from Mizzou to lead the NCAA in a statistical category. Here’s Cody’s company:

Bob Steuber, 1941: 121 points

Hank Burnine, 1955: 44 receptions

Roger Wehrli, 1968: 11.7 yards per punt return

Jeremy Maclin, 2008:  202.36 all-purpose yards per game

Danario Alexander, 2009: 137.0 receiving yards per game

Kentrell Brothers, 2015: 12.7 tackles per game

Drew Lock, 2017: 44 passing touchdowns and 16.38 passing yards per completion


1. Mizzou men’s basketball returns home against South Carolina on Saturday. How many opponents in program history has Mizzou played that have the word Carolina in their school name?

2. Before Schrader, who was the last Southeastern Conference player to lead Division I in rushing yards or rushing yards per game?


What a commanding road victory for Mizzou wrestling on Wednesday at No. 18 Stanford. The Tigers (7-0) won all 10 matches in the 39-0 takedown, including several upsets over higher-ranked opponents. The best news of the night might have been Peyton Mocco‘s 21-8 major decision in his return from injury — his sixth bonus-point win of the season. … Happy trails to Mizzou grad and former media relations staffer John Heisler, who announced his retirement this week after more than 50 years in the business at MU, Notre Dame and UCF. He spent 40 years at Notre Dame and the last five as senior associate athletics director at UCF. “I distinctly remember stuffing a couple of hundred football media guides into envelopes before I attended my first class at Mizzou,” he said this week. “I am so grateful for all the connections I made along the way — so many great friends among the media, athletes, coaches, sports communications professionals and athletic administrators.” … Mama Dembele’s knee injury left Mizzou women’s basketball especially shorthanded against No. 1 South Carolina in Thursday’s loss. Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley, who’s lost her share of games at Mizzou Arena, didn’t take for granted her team’s rare victory in CoMo. “We haven’t had a lot of success here,” she said, “but when you do, you feel good about it because it’s a tough place to play. When you have success here you have to enjoy it.” It’ll come as no consolation for the Tigers, but Staley went out of her way to praise what Dembele means to Mizzou — and the impact of her absence. “We capitalized on Mama being out. She’s the leader. She is someone that pushes tempo for them and she can score, she can facilitate, she can manage. You can’t really pressure her like we were able to pressure some of the other players out there. She keeps you on it. So, I thought the fact that we didn’t have to face her tonight really, really helped us, gave us a little bit of edge but out on the floor. … We wish her a speedy recovery because they’re a different basketball team. They’re still really good without her, but with her she takes it to another level.” … Seven former Mizzou players are on NFL playoff rosters: Chiefs (LB Nick Bolton, QB Blaine Gabbert), Browns (DL Jordan Elliott, DL Isaiah McGuire), Steelers (LB Markus Golden), Lions (DE Charles Harris) and Bills (C Mitch Morse). … Tip-off time for Mizzou men’s basketball against Florida on Jan. 20 will be announced on Sunday pending ESPN’s NFL playoff schedule. The game will tip at 5 p.m. or 7 p.m. at Mizzou Arena.


Friday, Jan. 12

No. 3 Gymnastics at No. 4 Alabama, 6 p.m., SEC Network (Tuscaloosa, Alabama)

Saturday, Jan. 13

Swimming and Diving at Purdue, 11 a.m. (West Lafayette, Indiana)

Men’s Basketball vs. South Carolina, 2:30 p.m., SEC Network

Sunday, Jan. 14

Tennis at Illinois, 11 a.m. (Champaign, Illinois)

Women’s Basketball at Vanderbilt, noon, SEC Network (Nashville, Tennessee)

Tuesday, Jan. 16

Men’s Basketball at Alabama, 6 p.m., SEC Network (Tuscaloosa, Alabama)

Thursday, Jan. 18

Women’s Basketball vs. Georgia, SEC Network+ 7 p.m.


1. Ten. Coastal Carolina, East Carolina, North Carolina, North Carolina A&T, North Carolina State, North Carolina-Wilmington, North Carolina Central, South Carolina, South Carolina State, Western Carolina

2. In 2015, Alabama’s Derrick Henry led Division I with 2,219 rushing yards while LSU’s Leonard Fournette led the country with 162.8 rushing yards per game.

This article is provided by University of Missouri Athletics