It was a magical end to the Spartan career of Taira Neal in the MSU gymnastics team’s 197.3-194.875 loss to No. 3 Michigan Saturday evening.
The senior captain, and second team all-Big Ten selection a season ago, tied her career high of 9.925 on vault, a score that ranks 5th all-time in the Spartan record books.
“I definitely wanted to try and beat (the career high), and I thought I beat it,” Neal said. “Getting my personal best or career best isn’t bad. I’m definitely happy.”
Neal was honored both before and after the meet, and had her mother, stepfather and brother on hand to watch her compete in a dual meet for the last time.
“I love having my family here,” she said. “It’s just more of a home feeling.”
The Spartans were out matched by the Wolverines in every way, as U-M took first place in all events including the all-around.
MSU received a 48.85 on vault, and a 48 on bars after falls by freshman Nicola Deans and freshman Kate Filosi.
Following the difficult bars event, the Spartans rebounded on beam, scoring a 48.975, a score that Neal was extremely proud of.
“I liked that we kept fighting back,” she said. “We had a fall on bars, and it would be easy for us to crumble because beam is definitely harder to be consistent on.”
The Spartans closed out the meet with a 49.05 on floor, led by junior Dani Levy with a 9.875 on the event.
Levy said her second place finish on beam and her third place finish on floor reminded her of what she’s known all along she was capable of.
“It’s excitement,” Levy said. “It’s great to get back to where I felt like I was last season.”
Her scores of 9.875 on both beam and floor were both career highs.
Levy said that she did it on senior night just added to the importance of her performance.
“It feels good because I’m doing it for Taira, because I wanted her to have a good night and I’m glad I could help out with that,” Levy said.
The Spartans travel to Pittsburgh, Pa. to take on Pittsburgh on March 8 before flying to Denver, Co. to face off against Denver on March 16.
Head coach Kathie Klages said she was frustrated following the meet, but wasn’t about to get down on herself or the team.
“We had some very good high points,” Klages said. “ What’s frustration as a coach is that we tend to focus on the ‘what if’ and that’s where it’s always the negative feeling you get. You’re talking about perfection, and deducting from that perfection. Nobody’s perfect ever.”
Freshman Lisa Burt was the only Spartan in the all-around, and finished third behind Katie Zurales and Joanna Sampson, who won the competition with a score of 39.650.
Klages said the only place to go is up, and a low score like the one they had against U-M isn’t a good representation of what MSU is capable of.
“It’s frustrating that we can’t seem to put a meet together at home in our own territory,” Klages said. “We’ll keep working on it, and hopefully the next few meets away, we’ll be able to put those scores up.”