Bright future in sight for MSU Gymnastics program
As senior gymnast Roya Shirley chalks up her hands before performing on the bars during senior day, the realization of the finality of the basic action hits her.
“There are so many emotions,” Shirley said. “I feel so completely excited, happy, all of the emotions that you can feel at one time, I’m feeling that right now.”
The final home meet of the 2018-2019 season occurred on March 17 where Shirley and three other seniors took the floor in Jenison Field House one last time.
“This senior class has been instrumental in paving the way for not only seizing the idea of, but moving forward with creating a new culture in Michigan State Gymnastics,” coach Mike Rowe said about the senior class. “Their leadership, passion and commitment has set a standard influenced by each one of them in many ways, to inspire and guide Spartan Gymnastics to newer heights in the future.”
Shirley was joined by fellow seniors Drew Hendershot, Molly Hoerner-O’Malley and Jessica Ling in the senior presentation after the award ceremony declared the Spartans’ first place finish over Ball State, University of Illinois Chicago and University of Alaska-Anchorage.
The Spartans finished with a score of 194.975 for the four events: vault, bars, beam and floor.
Shirley is one of two people on the Spartan roster to participate in all four events. She placed third overall with a total score of 38.725, falling to Lea Mitchell’s 39.275 and UIC’s Mikailla Northern’s 39.000. She received a 9.750 on the vault, 9.800 on bars, 9.525 on the beam and rounded out her floor routine with a 9.650.
“I think (the team) did awesome," Shirley said. "I think all the pieces came together. I think we fought from the beginning to the end and we got the outcome that we wanted, so we did great.”
“I think the energy was amazing,” Hoerner-O’Malley said after receiving a 9.725 on bars and a 9.650 on the beam. “Just the sense of family. We all have each other’s backs, we all love each other so much and wanting us to do our best.”
After every performance, Ling was the first to rush out onto the floor and congratulate her teammates on a job well done.
“I’m just so happy for them, every time someone gets up there and hits their routine, I know how hard everybody works and just to see that be rewarded on the competition floor is amazing and I couldn’t be happier for anybody,” Ling said. “Even if they don’t hit the best routine, we’re here to do the sport we love and that’s what’s most important.”
Ling participated in the bars event and tied for first place overall with fellow teammate sophomore Mitchell and UIC’s Serena Baker, with a score of 9.850.
Ling has also faced adversity; she’s been under the knife for three ACL reconstruction surgeries over her career at MSU.
“I think the main thing is just remembering why I do the sport and how hard I’ve worked to get here,” Ling said about the road to recovery she has been on since sitting out the 2017 season. “The thought of competing again is what kept me motivated when I was injured. Just knowing how badly I wanted to come back and help my team really kept me motivated through the whole thing.”
Hendershot, who received a 9.550 on her floor routine, has learned a lot over the last four years.
“I feel like I’ve grown a lot as a person and even when there are injuries it teaches you to come back … it shows you that you’re more than a gymnast. Everyone here on the team is really great and they support you through everything you do.”
The teammates have formed close bonds over the past few years of transition in the program.
“It’s a difficult sport," Hendershot said. "You’re striving for perfection all the time and you’re always being judged so it’s really important to have your teammates behind your back and there for you,”
The aftermath of the Larry Nassar scandal drastically changed the face of MSU Gymnastics as well as other organizations that received backlash for similar scandals and changed the mentality of MSU’s program.
“I came in here in the summer of ‘94 as an assistant coach,” Rowe said about his beginnings with the team. “I didn’t recruit this class (seniors), but when they got here, they were new to me and I got to figure out the system and how things worked here. Our statement from the beginning has been to try to establish and create a new culture here. ... We didn’t feel like it had structure or a base like that before.”
Rowe is excited for the future and has been proud of the effort the seniors have put into the program.
“This class was like our kindergarten class, starting the new culture and having them in charge of it, moving it along and getting people to jump on the bandwagon and they’ve done an amazing job. We’re just chipping away.”
After graduation, Shirley, a journalism major, hopes for a future in broadcasting.
Hoerner-O’Malley, majoring in advertising, plans on furthering her education in the Sports Management Graduate program at MSU or University of Michigan.
Ling, a kinesiology major, will be attending Wayne State University in their doctorate program for physical therapy program.
Hendershot has studied criminal justice the past four years, and plans on returning to North Carolina to attend Law School.
On March 22, the Spartans will travel to College Park for the Big Ten Championship meet.