By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
COLUMBIA, Mo. – Shannon Welker is in his first season as head coach of the University of Missouri gymnastics program, joining the Tigers from the University of Michigan, where he spent the past five seasons as an assistant coach.
Welker, whose Tigers open the 2014 season on Friday by traveling to Tuscaloosa, Ala., to take on No. 2 Alabama, sat down with the SEC Digital Network on Thursday to discuss his thoughts on his first team at Missouri and a host of other topics.
SEC Digital Network: What interested you in taking the head coaching job at the University of Missouri?
Shannon Welker: “It was a couple of things. For one, my family and I are from the state of Missouri, so it has been nice to be closer to our home and to be close to family. Second, the University of Missouri is a program that has a lot of upside to it. It is a beautiful school and it has all of those intangibles – the things you would hope to have in a school. I felt like there were things that could be utilized fully to build a nice strong program here.”
SEC Digital Network: What are your overall thoughts on your team heading into the 2014 season?
Shannon Welker: “In particular this year, we are just focused on our own team. We’ve got seven criteria that we’ve listed out for our team that will determine if we have a successful competition. We’re staying focused on ourselves and those things – that in-game criteria that we’re trying to achieve. If we do those seven things, regardless of wins or losses, we will have had a successful meet.”
SEC Digital Network: With all the success of the Missouri programs this fall, in particular the football team advancing to the SEC Championship Game and the volleyball team winning the SEC title with an undefeated regular season, does that help motivate other programs on campus like your own?
Shannon Welker: “I certainly don’t think it hurts. I don’t think anybody pushes our staff harder than our own staff and I don’t need any other motivation other than our own goals, but I certainly think that motivates our athletes to see that the University of Missouri can compete with the best in the country across the board. There is kind of a vibe going around the entire university. It’s a great thing to have – expectations that the entire program does well. It is certainly motivational not only to the coaches, but to the student-athletes as well.”
SEC Digital Network: What athletes on your team do you feel have made the biggest improvements in the offseason?
Shannon Welker: “We had a few more injuries than normal on last year’s team, so we’ve certainly seen strides in those athletes, who have really gotten back and gotten going. I am really pleased with how those kids – Katelyn Trevino, Briana Conkle and Rebecca Johnson – have gotten back from injuries last year. I’m pleased not only with their progress, but also the attitude and leadership they have displayed in the gym. Rachel Updike is a fantastic athlete and we certainly expect her to continue to do a great job. Laura Kappler and Miranda Eubank are other kids who we are expecting big things from this season.”
SEC Digital Network: In recruiting athletes to the University of Missouri gymnastics program, what characteristics are you looking for in a student-athlete?
Shannon Welker: “We certainly look at past performance with any student-athlete we are recruiting and see their track record. Obviously, you want a talented student-athlete and well-rounded athlete who does a good job in the classroom as well as the gym. The biggest thing outside of that, we are looking for somebody who has a passion for gymnastics and really loves the sport. You can tell as you are building that relationship when you are recruiting them and can identify the kids who really do love gymnastics. The seasons can get tough and they are a grind. You have to have a love for the sport if you are going to excel at the level the SEC is at.”
SEC Digital Network: It was announced in December that the University of Missouri would partner with the St. Louis Sports Commission to play host to the 2017 and 2018 NCAA Gymnastics Championships in St. Louis. What does that mean for your program?
Shannon Welker: “I think it’s great. It gives us a nice benchmark and goal to shoot for a few years down the road. I think what it says to the country and the conference is that the University of Missouri is competitive in all sports and putting a strong investment into gymnastics. The University is willing to co-host two NCAA Championships – that shows that they really care about the programs and are invested in keeping us on the national stage.”