Gymnastics falls to Illinois on senior night
Gymnastics stumbled on senior night Saturday, when the team posted its lowest score in more than a month in a loss to Illinois. Junior all-around talent Roya Shirley tore her achilles on vault, the first event of the night, before the Fighting Illini cruised to a win with a score of 196.350-194.550.
Spartan freshman Lea Mitchell won the individual all-around portion of the competition with a score of 39.175.
“After one of the all-arounders goes down, it kind of takes the wind out of your sails,” head coach Mike Rowe said. “They still rallied and went on and had a decent meet. But, we’re looking at replacing 9.80s on four events tonight, and that was tough to do.”
Vault doomed the Spartans early on, as they posted a 48.275, one of their lowest scores of the season.
“The scores we got on vault were the vaults that we showed,” Rowe said.
However, the Spartans did recover, performing better on bars and posting their season high on the beam with 49.050.
“The team and I pulled together before bars started and we breathed for a minute,” senior Tori Huehn said. “We confirmed, like, ‘Hey, we can do this, it’s just another day in the gym.”
Shirley’s absence was felt most prominently on floor, where the Spartans posted two sub-9.700 scores. Freshman Tristan Brown scored 9.625, and junior Brittini Chappell posted a 9.300.
Mitchell was a bright spot for the team, with four scores of 9.700 or above. Rowe was effusive in his praise after the meet, particularly in regards to Mitchell’s maturity in coming in as a freshman and performing well.
“It’s really exciting because we knew she was a stud and she would come in here and do that, but sometimes the transition into college with academics in addition to 20 hours per week in the gym, they’re not always ready for that," Rowe said. "She’ll be a driving force for this program for the rest of her career.
"The girls respond with her very well, they raise the bar on themselves when they see how she works. It’s like, ‘Follow my lead, ladies.’ She’s a leader by example every single day.”
On the occasion of senior night, the coaching staff planned a surprise for the seniors by having their parents stand near the beam during their performances. It seemed to work, with beam being the Spartans’ best event on the night.
“First, I was confused, I was like, ‘Why is my mom by the beam?’” Huehn said. “I definitely didn’t expect it, but it was a great feeling, once I saluted after my beam routine. Just being embraced by my family, it was a very comforting feeling: not only to be embraced by your teammates, but by your family.”
Rowe said having parents next to the beams was nice and thought it was special for the parents.
“Maybe we should have parents on the floor more often, I don’t know,” Rowe said.
Senior Hailee Westney was one of the better performers on the night, posting above 9.800s on bars and beam.
“Looking back after the meet, I was very, very happy,” she said. “Overall, I am really proud of my performance.”
She said she still has a lot to work on, specifically the "small details" such as hitting handstands or pointing her toes.
“Nothing major, just little, little details," Westney said. "I know that will add up in the end and it can lead to big results,” she said.
The Spartans have three regular season meets left, all on the road at Iowa State, Illinois-Chicago and Oregon State. Following that comes the Big Five meet, which will take place at Jenison Field House but is not considered a regular season event. Then, MSU will travel to Champaign, Illinois for the Big Ten championships.
“I would just watch out for the Spartans,” Huehn said. “We’ve got a lot of talent on this team, and people are getting back in the lineups. Sure, there are some small setbacks but I would not count us out. Keep watching because amazing things are gonna happen in the future.”