Gymnastics to open season against Western Michigan

The MSU gymnastics team gets their season underway at 4 p.m. Saturday when they take on Western Michigan at Jenison Field House.

“We’ve been going four hours a day, five days a week since September, so we’re really excited to get out on the competition floor,” head coach Kathie Klages said.

Klages said the team is focused on getting a no-fall meet, where five out of the six competitors perform at a higher level than they achieved in practices and exhibitions thus far in each event.

With the loss of four key seniors a season ago, this team is made up of 12 underclassmen, including eight freshmen, who Klages said will need to step up if the Spartans are going to compete.

“We have a lot of talent on this team, but a lot of that talent is coming from that freshmen class,” she said. “We have two all-around freshmen competing in all four events, and another one competing in three events.”

Freshmen Lisa Burt and Nicola Deans were named Big Ten gymnasts to watch, and will be competing in the all-around for MSU on Saturday.

After two exhibition meets before winter break, this will be the first time MSU’s large and talented freshmen class will officially compete in green and white.

Burt said the combination of her first meet, along with the title of “gymnast to watch” hasn’t hit her yet, but she knows it will.

“I know that when Saturday comes, there will be butterflies in my stomach when I go out,” Burt said. “It’s a little nerve-wracking because I want to do my best, but I try to push (the title) back in my mind.”

The only senior on the team, Taira Neal, also is the captain, and demonstrates a unique leadership style. She doesn’t talk a whole lot to the team, but when she does, her words are profound.

Burt described Neal as the type of leader a young team needs. She anticipates the senior captain helping her through her first meet as a Spartan.

“It’s good for our team because we don’t want somebody who’s demanding on us all the time,” Burt said. “We want somebody who is chill and who we can relate to. She’s a good combination of both.”

Neal, a second-team All-Big Ten selection last year, is going into this season with a new lease on life. She has had numerous injuries that caused her to miss the 2010 season.

Contrary to other sports, Neal said the best thing to do in gymnastics is to ignore the other team until the end of the meet, and that’s what she hopes to do against Western Michigan on Saturday.

“It’s easier in team gymnastics to stay within your team and focus on what your goals are for that meet instead of watching the other team,” Neal said. “It can kind of get you out of focus (when) you watch what they do instead of thinking about what you need to do at that time.”

A season ago, the Spartans beat the Broncos 192.425-188.850 in a scrimmage, but Neal said the two squads have a budding rivalry and it’s bound to be an entertaining afternoon.

“Going against Western is usually a good meet, and they come out ready to beat Michigan State because they’re like our baby rival in gymnastics, so it’s going to be fun,” she said. “I’m ready, the team’s ready, and it’s going to be a good one.”

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