One thing that helped Welker in this past season was his prior coaching experience. Before overseeing the gymnastics team at Mizzou, Welker was an assistant coach at the University of Michigan. “Working at Michigan, I had some really great mentors in [head coach] Bev [Plocki] and [assistant coach] Scott [Sherman] and the athletic department in general, and that was a fantastic experience,” Welker said. “I believe it really prepared me well for the move into this position.” During Welker’s five year at Michigan, its women’s gymnastics program experienced three Big Ten Championships, two Regional Championships and three Nationals appearances. As the aforementioned results show, Michigan has one of the top women’s gymnastics programs in the country, so Welker utilized what he learned with the Wolverines and brought it to Mizzou. “One of the main things that we applied is to have some principles, have some standards and really stick with those,” Welker said of his time at Michigan. “I mean, you have to be somewhat flexible, but I think those things that we all know are good coaching principles and attention to detail, those things are applicable at all schools. You just got to figure out how to apply them to the athletes you’re with, but I think sticking with your gut a lot of times and sticking with the principles and your expectations is very important, even if things are very challenging.”
Everyone faces challenges, and Welker is no exception, especially since 2014 was his first season with the Tigers. With the exception of former Tiger gymnasts Colleen Mulcahy (student coach) and Tori Howard (director of operations), the coaching staff was new, which added to Welker’s challenge. Former Arkansas Gymback Casey Jo Magee and former Oregon State assistant coach John Carney both joined Welker. In addition, the Tigers had two freshmen student coaches, Hannah Finnegan and Mikayla Walsh, and three freshmen gymnasts. With so many new people coming to work together with girls who have been training together for several months ― and sometimes years ― Welker knew this first season wasn’t going to be easy. “Every group of athletes and individual athlete operates different[ly],” he said. “We also had a new coaching staff that is fantastic, but it takes a little time for everybody to figure out how we best work together and how do we get the most out of our student-athletes and help them with their goals along with getting our team goals done.”
Although there were challenges, Welker also saw success. An aspect Welker and his coaching staff were pleased with the gymnasts’ technique. They were also pleased with the team’s chemistry, as it’s something they value greatly. Chemistry is not only important regarding preparation and practice but in actual competition as well. “A team limits itself if they don’t have that team chemistry in place,” Welker said. “I really think it’s vital to finding out how good and how much you can achieve as a team is making sure that piece is taken care of and the team chemistry is well established.”
As Welker begins to make his mark on the Mizzou gymnastics program, he has a set goal in mind. “Any great program, which is what we’re shooting to be, is consistent, for the most part, from year to year,” he said. “Everybody has great years, and everybody has some good years, and I think that’s what we’re looking for, just a little more consistency on a yearly basis. Being a consistent team competing for NCAA Championships, that’s really what we’re looking for.”
While Welker and the Tigers know what they want, they also know how to achieve it.
“We got to make sure that we’re sending the right type of message and [being] more consistent in our training and the message that we’re sending out student-athletes here. Like all programs, recruiting has a great deal of impact on the success of your program once they’re here. “So we’ve certainly been aggressive in getting the most talented student-athletes to come here at the University of Missouri, and I think that has a big deal of great impact on it, and continuing that message once they get here. Just be consistent in our work ethic and our expectations of everyday life, not just in the gym, but in our studies, in our social settings, just as people.” Recruiting is a vital step in achieving their goal of consistency, but Welker’s role concerning that has not changed despite his new position and has advice for aspiring collegiate gymnasts. The Mizzou gymnastics program seeks gymnasts with “the passion for gymnastics and have the passion to be better in everything they do, are enjoyable, have a great work ethic, and really love gymnastics” to help them become a nationally competitive program. Aspiring collegiate gymnasts must be prepared for what this level of the sport entails, especially if they desire to be part of a top program. “You really have to love it because the season gets tough sometimes. It’s challenging. It can be a long season. You’re going back-to-back 12, 14 weeks in a row. You really have to love it. That’s the type of student-athlete that we’re looking for, to get in our program.”
One attraction Mizzou has for recruits is being in the SEC, which Welker described as being “fantastic.”
“It is a very challenging conference and, arguably, the best conference in the country for gymnastics from top to bottom … I think that’s what’s really exciting about this conference, is that every weekend, you get to test yourself against some of the best gymnasts and the best teams in the country. That’s why I think the SEC is such a fantastic place to be.” Being in the SEC is also a great motivator for the Tigers and their goal of consistency. The Tigers know they have to face many of the top teams in the country in their conference alone, which prepares them for what they aspire to be and teaches them to work hard.
With a new coaching staff, solid principles and goals and being in the SEC, gym fans have something to look forward to with Mizzou gymnastics. At least, Coach Welker thinks so. “The University of Missouri is an exciting place to be,” Welker said. “It really is great, and I think the student-athletes will find out more about what our program has to offer as the years go by. I’m excited to see the program grow.”
Written by: Amanda